After Ben is an emotional window into a man's life after unexpectedly losing his partner of fifteen years.
Theo is a fairly unassuming accountant (auditor?) whose joy in life circled around his partner, Ben- his love and the center of his life. And when a pre-story accident takes Ben from him, Theo falls into a tailspin that seems unrecoverable. We meet Theo about a year after his partner's death. He's functioning- most of the time, but only on automatic. He operates in a surreal world, largely shying away from social interactions and empathetic human contact.
Through the first portion of the book, we experience Theo's grief firsthand, but primarily as he starts to emerge from the haze to 'become human' once again. It's not perfect- there are relapses, fits, and sometimes painfully slow growth. The first half of the book truly felt more like a character study in grief and is affects on humans. We get to spend a fair amount of time with Ben, seeing him as part of Theo's frequent, and sometimes sporadic and unexpected, flashbacks.
Speaking of flashbacks- Several reviewers commented on the numerous flashbacks, indicating that they felt the flashbacks were not clearly defined, they separated the reader from the story and were excessive. I agree... To a point. If you detest flashbacks, this story isn't for you. And yet - I love that the author did it this way. The abrupt mid-action flashbacks only contributed further to the surreal quality of grief. The reader gets a very real feel for how pervasive the absence of someone can be in your life. It's smothering.
Fortunately, through a series of events, we see a slow re-emergence of Theo into the world. He starts to build relationships – sometimes successfully, sometimes not - he makes new friends, and he begins to rebuild himself.
This is a very slow-paced book. In fact, we don't see the true relationship emerged until approximately 2/3 of the way through the story. But it fits. The slow build of a new relationship is absolutely realistic and succeeded in building tension. I almost couldn't put the book down last night -I just wanted to keep reading.
So why not more stars? It probably deserves more, but strangely when I went to finish the book today I couldn't remember what made it seem so impactful to me previously. Sadly, it was a little forgettable. That, and the resolution to the final conflict seemed very quick to me.
Still, this was absolutely a solid, endearing read and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.