Men Like Air might begin like a clichéd modern love story, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. In fact, by beginning with two young lovers entering New York City on a bus, both seemingly escaping something horrible in their previous lives, Tom Connolly almost seems to be tricking us into expecting something standard and predictable. We might not mind the feeling of a tale well told too much, though, because from beginning to end the writing is beautiful, witty, and sharp.
Dilly, the young women in that New York bound couple, is such a captivating and recognisable character in the early chapters that you might well believe this work will have her at its very centre. But once again, that expectation is pushed aside. And it is when Dilly disappears from the main thrust of the narrative that we begin to see what this work is really about. Finn, her boyfriend, is one of four lost men that actually make this novel so involving. He has come to America not to make a new life with Dilly, but to confront Jack – the brother who left him behind following the tragic death of their parents.
Finn and Jack’s reunion is integral to this exploration of male relationships and psychology, and it is touching to see how their turbulent existence so far both keeps them apart and then brings them back together. Equally important to the novel’s purpose are Leo and William. Two long-time friends reaching the latter stages of their lives seem to cope better with the awkwardness that can be central to close male relationships, but in many ways that is only because they’ve become better at hiding it. Their importance to each other often goes unsaid, making the culmination of this work all the more emotional.
Any Cop?: There is a plot to this wonderful work of fiction, but in many ways it’s secondary to the characters and the way that they evolve and interact. Connolly orchestrates the relationships in the most assured manner imaginable, making the most of every scene and sentence. It’s funny, frustrating, upsetting, and very true to life. It’s a contender for book of the year.