Brian Thompson is living a lie. A successful businessman, Brian can’t stay focused in a real relationship and cheats on Timothy, his longtime lover. A phone call from his younger brother Joey, whom Brian hasn’t spoken to in years, makes him recognize the uncanny resemblance between the two men.
Joey is, in a word, perfect. In Brian’s eyes, he always has been. When their mother is hospitalized, Joey asks his older brother to come home. He tells Brian he needs him, which is just what Brian wants to hear. But the long trip north gives Brian plenty of time to think about his brother, and he comes to realize an unsettling truth — he is in love with Joey.
Suddenly Brian admits that he wants Joey in ways he knows he shouldn’t. Can he come to terms with the way he feels before his unrequited love threatens to tear him — and his relationships with Timothy and Joey — apart?
Between Brothers by J.M. Snyder is an extremely well written story that explores the various dimensions of love between two brothers with intelligence, sensitivity and thoughtfulness. This story is not about a sexual relationship between blood brothers meant to titillate and arouse. Rather, it delves deeply and honestly into the complexities of Brian’s feelings of sexual desire and romantic love for his brother Joey, all the while examining the broader confines of their relationship as brothers, as well as their place and role as sons within the context of their family.
The story is written in the first person through the character of Brian who offers a raw and gritty point of view. I found Snyder’s characterization of Brian to be quite daring in its truthful exploration of a complicated man who is struggling with feelings that are completely inappropriate and unacceptable from a familial and societal perspective. In her writing of Brian, the author deftly captures his self-loathing and sense of alienation.
On the surface, Brian is not an easy character to like. He is self-absorbed, selfish and duplicitous. He cheats on his lover and partner Timothy with a multitude of men, and abuses his power at the office by having sex with his junior assistant. He readily acknowledges to himself that all of these encounters with men are meaningless, but he lacks sensitivity and to a certain degree even remorse in respect of what these affairs would do to Timothy if he were to ever find out. Brian’s unrequited love for his brother has essentially dictated his life choices and actions as an adult. Even his choice in lovers has been influenced by his feelings for Joey, as he is drawn to men who look like his brother. In this respect, Timothy bears a striking resemblance to Joey.
And yet, I couldn’t help but have compassion for this character because his self-destructive tendencies are motivated by his deep shame, pain and self-loathing. Brian punishes himself for his feelings by physically distancing himself from his family who he hasn’t kept in touch with or seen in over a decade. And through his sexual promiscuity he puts up barriers to avoid emotional intimacy with everyone, in particular with those who should be closest to him – Timothy, his parents and even his brother Joey.
The author captures the intensity of Brian and the complexities of his feelings through the wonderfully descriptive prose of his narrative. There is one particular passage in which Brian recounts one of his earliest memories of Joey and himself that is touching and tender and stands out as a defining moment in Brian and Joey’s relationship:
“In photos there was a time before Joey, but I don’t remember it. My earliest memory plays like an old silent film, scratchy in parts, jumping across the movie screen of my mind. In it, I am awake at an impossible young age, no more than three or four – I lay in the darkness listening to the sound of my baby brother’s cries. After several minutes, when it becomes obvious that my mother sleeps too soundly in the other room to hear him. I slip out of my toddler bed and across the room to his crib. ‘Shh,” I whisper through the bars, imitating my mother. I don’t hear my voice, but like in a dream I just know what’s being said. With one small hand, I pat the crib bumper the way I’ve seen my mother pat the baby’s back to burp him. ‘Joey, shh.’
He hiccups and continues to cry. With the fearless dexterity of a toddler, I pull out the drawers on the nearby changing table and use them to climb into the crib. The old wood creaks beneath my sudden weight, silencing my brother. In the faint glow from my nightlight I can see his wide eyes watching me as he sucks on one small fist, ‘Shh, baby,’ I say again. This time I pat his leg – with a giggle, he kicks out at me and I tickle the bottom of his scrunchy little foot.
Getting back out of the crib seems daunting, so I stretch alongside the baby and snuggle up to his tiny warmth. In the darkness of our bedroom, he sticks his tiny, perfect fingers, saliva-slicked, into my mouth, my nose, my ears. I keep a protective hand on his warm baby belly and whenever he hitches his breath, I pat his stomach and murmur into his scant hair, ‘Shh.’ Eventually we fall asleep spooned together. When mother found us the next morning, she used half a roll of film taking pictures until the click and whirr of the camera finally woke me up. I still have one of those pictures tucked deep into my wallet, hidden away. I haven’t seen it in years, but I know it’s still there.”
Brian’s return to his place of birth and childhood home to help out his family while his mother is hospitalized forces him to face and come to terms with the feelings and issues that he has avoided all of his adult life. Joey is a key catalyst in this because despite the fact that he is the younger sibling he demonstrates great insight when it comes to his brother and their relationship. Joey forces Brian to face himself and his feelings and to make a decision as to the man he wants to be without judgment or recrimination, and with unconditional love.
Between Brothers by J.M. Snyder is an emotionally captivating and thought-provoking story that bravely explores the facets of love between two brothers with honesty and respect. I was completely immersed in the characters and found their story to be quite touching and poignant. Both Brian and Joey remained with me long after I finished reading the book. I recommend Between Brothers even to readers who usually shy away from the subject of incest precisely because the subject itself and the issues surrounding it are handled with intelligence, sensitivity and thoughtfulness by the author.