The Silence of the Stars - Kate McMurray
3.5 Stars

The Silence of the Stars is a ‘spin-off’ of The Stars That Tremble. I’m not sure of the differentiation between spin-off and sequel, but there you have it. We are introduced in more detail to Sandy Sullivan, Mike’s childhood friend from the first book. Sandy works as a contractor for Mike’s home remodeling business and is hired to remodel Everett Blake’s horrible orange monstrosity of a kitchen. Everett just came out of a long-term relationship. He is a professor at the school where Gio (now engaged to Mike) teaches. He is a classically trained violinist and comes from a cultured, wealthy family where education is paramount. Everett is Upper East Side Manhattan, Sandy is Brooklyn blue-collar.

The Silence of the Stars works as a standalone, but having the background provided by the first book is helpful. Mike and Gio are secondary characters in this story, which mostly revolves around Sandy’s PTSD and its effects on his life as a civilian, and those around him. Sandy is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. He served fourteen years under DADT and was medically discharged after a car bomb killed his closest friend over there, and left him with a crippling case of PTSD. His symptoms have lessened considerably in the six years he has been home, but he still suffers from vivid nightmares and periodic flashbacks.

Sandy, while refusing to apply the label “PTSD” to himself, doubts anyone can deal with his messed-up head for long. He has kept most of his symptoms to himself, not sharing them with his family or even his best friend Mike, who is also a veteran. He doesn’t even want to spend the night with Everett because he fears Everett’s reaction if he sees him caught in the clutches of a nightmare. When he accidentally falls asleep and wakes up having thrown Ev to the floor, the truth about the depth of his struggles comes out.

Everett is supportive and comforting, but worries he’s getting into a situation he doesn’t know how to handle. He fears that Sandy might get violent and unpredictable, like a man his friend was involved with who had PTSD. Ms. McMurray dealt very well with PTSD and the struggle so many of our veterans live with when they return from war. There is still a huge stigma in admitting that you are damaged on the inside. Wounds on your flesh are easily explained, the physical limits they cause understood. But acknowledging that your mind and your heart may not heal is something that remains difficult to this day. I felt that Ms. McMurray’s research was very solid on this front.

I found nothing really wrong with this book. The main characters were both nice, fairly ordinary guys who meet, go out, and actually talk about their relationship. They kiss and hold hands, not shy in the least about public displays of affection. Their relationship progresses without angst, breakups or major misunderstandings. Things were far from perfect between them, but they wanted it to work, because loved each other and truly felt futures would be better together than apart. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop; to introduce the angst and separation they need to come back together as a stronger unit. It never came.

I found the book to be bland. The heat was missing from the sex, which was often alluded to but rarely seen on the page. There was very promising talk of kink, but we never got to see if it happened or not. Much of Sandy and Everett’s conversation felt awkward. There were too many internal monologues on the part of both MCs, many of them were repetitive and didn’t sync with what was happening on page.

Everett’s parents were stereotypical, their every word and move predictable. Even though they had readily accepted their son’s homosexuality, they were unable to accept his choice in men because of Sandy’s background, both economically and educationally. They were snobby and judgmental to the extent that they almost became caricatures. I loved New York City and the outer boroughs as a backdrop for the story. They are almost characters on their own. I got a good feel for the varied cultures and character of the city.

I love Kate McMurray’s writing, it’s thoughtful and thought provoking. Her characters usually have so much depth. Her main characters are real flesh and blood, and they have a vulnerability that rings true. The blue collar guy with the classical musician, such an unlikely pairing, yet so right for each other. I feel like The Silence of the Stars was a missed opportunity. I liked it okay, but I love Ms. McMurray’s work in general and this one didn’t live up to the standards she has set in her previous books.