A first novel that reads like a work-in-progress, with assorted chapters from a memoir of a Lowell, Massachusetts, family: unloving father, alcoholic mother, and two mama's boys who become gay men. It starts jauntily enough, with the focus on Meg Beeler, a dazzlingly attractive young mother on a 1958 visit to N.Y.C. with her sons Cliff and Sam. Away from her ``old poop'' of a husband, Meg is out for a fun time, and not averse to having a fling with a stranger in his hotel room; in the next chapter we see her with her best friend Pauline, ``two beautiful, madcap blondes'' flirting their way through an innocent summer at the shore. Then the focus shifts, first to narrator Sam, pining for a less rowdy family, then to older brother Cliff, a Peeping Tom who does not disguise from Sam his interest in men's bodies. We lurch forward in time, and deeper into presumably autobiographical quicksands: Sam, eager to distance himself from his family, is studying enology in Vermont. He bemoans his father's failure to confront Meg's drinking problem, and to love Cliff and himself the way he loves his nephews. Another lurch ahead, and Sam is a highly qualified winemaker on an Italian estate, living with his lover Fred, while stateside Cliff (soon to die of AIDS) cares for the increasingly addled Meg. This might have been a full-length portrait of a trapped housewife; a gay coming-of-age story; or even a drama of sibling rivalry. Curiously, Gervais never made this fundamental choice; the result is a work without shape and direction.
Read full book review >