“Love is a friendship set to music.” – Joseph Campbell
Richie Wilkins and Brandon Burns were friends. And then they weren’t. That happens sometimes when you outgrow a person, or find that suddenly the little things a person does begin to grate on your nerves until you either rip your own ears off or cut that person from your life. Thankfully for Richie’s ears, he chose the latter and pushed Brandon away, severing their friendship. But that doesn’t mean Brandon disappeared from Richie’s life.
Being next door neighbors in a small town, with moms who happen to be friends, makes avoiding each other nearly impossible, but Richie does his best. And he succeeds, mostly, until the day Brandon is lured over the fence that divides them, called by Richie’s music and the allure of Richie himself.
Set in the Vietnam era, Brandon’s Laughter is the tale of two young boys who become men all too quickly. The story takes place during a time in which the fear and denial of being queer outweighed and overwhelmed the love the boys grew to share. As Brandon leaves for Vietnam with Richie’s rejection like a fresh wound on his heart, Richie starts college but soon decides he has to take Brandon’s words to heart, and leaves for Nashville to take a shot at a music career.
Through years of separation, a time during which Richie finally accepts that he’s gay, carries on both relationships and one-night-stands, and ultimately comes to terms with the fact that he’s still deeply and irrevocably in love with Brandon, the tension in this story emerges and grows. Brandon and Richie’s relationship is like a tune that begins in sour notes, all flats and sharps, then slowly unfolds into a gorgeous refrain that I didn’t want to end. But it did, and all too soon.
Exactly three years ago, I read a novella called One More Soldier, a story also set in the 1960s, a story in which one of the characters leaves to fight the war in Vietnam, a story I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Marie Sexton succeeded in pulling my guts out through my tear ducts, and I was afraid that Ellen Holiday was going to do the same with Brandon’s Laughter, but I was spared at the eleventh hour, thank goodness, though that’s not to say I didn’t shed a few tears along the way.
I absolutely loved this story, even if I do think it’s too short. That’s not a slight on the author but a compliment to her. I just didn’t want to let these characters go.
Reviewed by: Lisa