Listening to the Dust
Author Brandon Shire’s haunting short novel, "Listening To Dust," examines the brief yet profound courtship between an unlikely pair -- a young, small town Southern man on military leave and a lonely, orphaned writer from London.
One drunken evening in London, Stephen Dobbins, a slightly older British gentleman raised by French grandparents after his mother and father are murdered, crosses paths with Dustin Earl, a sheltered, closeted American soldier from a highly dysfunctional family, including an abusive father and older brother.
Stephen and Dustin’s one night stand evolves into a passionate, eight months-long affair, as the two men learn that despite their differences they were destined to find each other. Nevertheless, the romance is short-lived when Dustin returns home to care for his mentally challenged younger brother, Robbie.
The author purposefully recounts the timeline of events at a diner, with Stephen seated across a table from Robbie, having arrived in the States more than a year after Dustin’s abrupt departure and determined to win him back. As Robbie, now on trial, awaits a verdict from the nearby town courthouse, he shares the grim details of a violent family incident, tragically preventing any sort of reunion with Dustin that Stephen might have had in mind.
Through a series of flashbacks and snapshots of brief encounters, the author manages to paint a vivid picture of each character, as well as the surroundings. The small town diner setting is especially effective, where the outsider, Stephen, and native, Robbie, bravely converge among the burning, and accusatory stares of the local residents. Furthermore, given that Dustin’s sole reason for spending time in Europe was to spot trains for Robbie provides a powerful and telling representation of the unbreakable bond between the two brothers, and therefore is no surprise when Dustin sacrifices his own happiness to return home.
"Listening To Dust" is a tense, moving story with two genuine and mostly likeable -- or at least relatable -- main characters, courtesy of the author’s succinct, heartfelt prose. I would have liked to become better acquainted with Stephen and Dustin over a longer period, but I credit Shrine for trusting the reader to fill in any missing pieces.