Edward and Gene were instantly drawn to each other when they met at college in Maryland. Fast friends, they developed a “closer than brothers” relationship. But then Edward began to feel more for Gene. In 1967, those kind of feelings would not be tolerated. Not even by Edward himself.
Gene always thought he was asexual. He had never been attracted to anyone… until he met Edward. He dreamed of Edward as more than a friend throughout college, but he knew Edward would not welcome that kind of attention. So Gene wasn’t surprised when Edward reacted badly to a drunken kiss just before Edward’s graduation. He was surprised when Edward moved to Florida and had little to do with him for years afterward.
When fate finally brings them back together, Edward is married and has a little girl. Gene gladly accepts the role of “Uncle Gene,” happy to have Edward in his life in any capacity. Together, they face all the trials and tribulations life throws at them, including the death of Edward’s wife, and as each grows and matures, their life views change. The relationship they’ve secretly wanted all along is closer than ever, and if Edward can break free from his homophobic upbringing and admit his feelings for Gene, there might still be a chance for them to share their lives in the way they both desire.
A Bittersweet Dreams title: It’s an unfortunate truth: love doesn’t always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.
“Was it 4? Or was it 5?” – Me
“Four or five what? Stars?” – Myself
“No. Four or five tissues?” – I
“It was five.” – Me
There have been only a handful of books that have broken me as completely as Through the Years. And only one other that I can remember that left me an inconsolable sobbing mess upon its completion – Always by Kindle Alexander. I suppose it’s only fitting as Through the Years was very reminiscent of my experience while reading Always. By that I mean the range of emotions I felt as I read it, the level of realism, how invested I was in the characters, how real they felt to me, how much happiness their joy brought me and just how fully I felt their pain and devastation as their family dealt with life and loss over more than five decades.
Through the Years is presented in what I would best describe as a storytelling format and while it is not a style I usually enjoy, I not only thought it perfect for this novel, but I found myself enthralled by it. The book is told from Gene’s point of view and it feels as though he was telling me (the reader) his life story by sharing his memories of the past – both the good times and the bad. But the author enriches the experience by moving back and forth between Gene telling his story and showing us the events as they occurred. Almost like Gene set the stage by introducing the scene, we “see” the memory plays out, and then we return to Gene’s narration of the past. Stein strikes the balance between being told and being shown Gene and Edward’s story beautifully and what could have felt like a cold recitation of events had me grinning, laughing, and crying as I immersed myself in their story, spending more than five decades with Gene.
>>>>SENSITIVE ISSUE WARNING & POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOLLOW<<<<<
Now I am not one of those readers who feels as though an author should have to warn potential readers of all possible triggers. It’s not possible and it’s unrealistic to expect because what’s a trigger for one person may have no effect on another. That’s not to say that authors shouldn’t warn readers about highly sensitive issues that could be triggers (i.e., sexual assault and child molestation), but I don’t expect them to cover them all. I really only have two issues that are triggers for me and Through the Years hit them both. The first being the loss of partner by a gay man. I’m not gay, but my partner of nearly a decade was a gay man. Obviously we weren’t involved sexually, but he was my life partner, my soul mate, and my rock for nearly ten years. So when I read a book in which the homosexual couple is separated by death, it hits me hard. Being as I lost my partner to cancer, it’s not surprising that the big C is my other trigger. This is not to say that I cannot read books with either of these themes, but I do my best to avoid them in July and August and you can probably imagine why.
>>>>>END OF POTENTIAL SPOILERS<<<<<
Through the Years leveled me because it featured both of my sensitive issues. Would knowing this ahead of time kept me from reading the book? No, and having read it, I don’t regret a single page of it because it was a beautiful love story that broke my heart more than once – and the best ones often do. However, I would have read it on a Saturday when I had nowhere to be for the weekend because right now my head hurts, my nose is stuffy, and my eyes are burning red from crying for probably the last 20% of the book. But if you’re in the mood for a journey that will break your heart while reaffirming your faith in love, then clear your schedule, grab your tissues, and settle in for an amazing read.