The problems of a gay man coming out are exacerbated by his brother's schizophrenia—in a half on-key first novel from TV comedy-writer Stein. The Rosenbaums of the Bronx are a close, loving family, and the two sons are kindred spirits, so when college student Philip has a breakdown it's especially painful for Bert, still in high school. This is Bert's story, but Philip's illness is a constant backdrop (now he's better, now he's worse, now he's in the hospital, now he's out), and for the next eight years Bert will suppress fears of going crazy himself. Those fears seem realized when Bert meets three space aliens in the park, but it turns out that the aliens are a form of comic relief, though the joke (we may be small and green but we're still just like you all) wears thin very quickly and undercuts the madness theme. So Bert, sanity unimpaired, goes from being a ``Bronx nerd punk rocker'' to a Princeton graduate to a bureaucrat with New York's Department of Sewers to a Columbia MBA student. He also goes from unfulfilling sex with women to frustrating relationships with men—frustrating because he gravitates to men more sexually confused than himself. Does this have to do with the newly emergent virus (the time is the early Eighties)? Or is Bert, as a friend asks, trying to make himself as unhappy as his brother? The story ends with the question unanswered, Bert dating somebody new, and Philip as sick as ever. An insubstantial debut bulked out with the small change of co- worker relationships and the antics of Bert's neighbor, a standard- issue New York crazy. Stein does write well and movingly about family matters; his strength is in quiet realism rather than comic routines.
Read full book review >