Private War

Dear Benjamin Alire Saenz,

I finished Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It’s most definitely not what I thought it would be.

From the start, I knew it would be a coming-of-age book. I got that right. When the accident happened, it evoked memories from A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I could almost swear that there were strains of it in a few pages, especially during the recovery period.

Then the kissing and other explorations happened.

It was at that point I thought and even hoped that the rest of the story would be about a straight boy and a gay boy becoming friends despite all the changes and challenges they were going through. But it turned out to be a bromance sans b.

Not going to lie. I am disappointed that it turned out to be a romance. I did buy the book on impulse, thinking it would be a slice-of-life piece. I was wrong. I had parts that I loved: insights about being the youngest in family, being a married couple for so many years, growing up in the 80s, and coping with a family secret.

“We all fight our private wars.”

Guess the disappointment loomed large with me because I too was reading it during the time I was fighting my own private war. During that time, I badly wanted something that would give me hope that friendship would survive arguments and disappointments and betrayal and that people would remain friends no matter what—not turn into lovers in the end. I was not prepared for your story. It’s not your fault. I projected expectations to an innocent book.

In retrospect, it was right to have read and finished it as the war ended. If I read it after, I don’t think I would’ve had the appetite for it at all.



Mati Serraño


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