Fascinated by an idealized version of Italy he imagines from literature and art, a young gay man goes through the motions of a mundane life in the1990s, while sleep deprivation causes vivid dreams that blend strangely with reality.
Jeffers’ fuguelike story elevates everyday people and places to the fantastical with beautifully evocative language and detailed descriptions. In passages that move smoothly between being microscopically focused and dreamily abstract, the fantastical elements are grounded by the language’s simplicity, leaving the reader equally intrigued by an Italian child prince and a bar near Fenway. Various people—some more real than others—try to guide and control rootless Ben: dark, beautiful Dario and his siblings, who moved from a Boston warehouse to Dario’s small apartment in Providence; bike messenger and artist Neddy, who claims Ben as his lover after running into him; straight friend Kenneth, who offers Ben a place to live in Boston as well as a strangely shifting intimacy; Ben’s mother, who caricatures their family in her novels; his father, who comes out to Ben and begs for support as his marriage falls apart; and his old Spanish teacher Paulo, whose upcoming visit to Boston causes Ben to re-evaluate their connection. At the same time Ben is perhaps creating these people, they help define him. Everyone seems to have moments when they’re real and moments when they’re fantasy; even dreams have agendas and needs to push upon Ben. Jeffers’ story achieves its goal of being a literary, self-aware novel about living reactively and without agency, and it only occasionally falls into academic strangeness or aimlessness. An exquisite flow of language ensures that the narrative doesn’t get lost even as Ben drifts.
A gorgeous journey to nowhere.