"HEY, JOE" by Ben Neihart


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Two very different narratives crash (and burn) in this breezy first novel set in New Orleans over a single day: A spunky gay teen comes of age and almost collides with the characters in a strange courtroom drama. Sixteen-year-old Joe Keith likes to puff a little weed, hang around the downtown alternative music stores, and cruise older men at the health club. A crypto-slacker, he's also ""making the first moves into being a citizen of the world"" with helpful advice from his older friends: Kel, who runs a music shop; White Donna, a ""faux teen"" deejay; and Black Chris, her Tulane med school student boyfriend. While Joe seems reconciled to his father's death from cancer, his mother Sherry can't let go of father or son, and worries a lot about her smart-tongued boy. Then, improbably, mother and son get drawn into a tale much in the local news: Rae Schipke, a grants administrator, is being sued by the boys of a local orphanage who claim she molested them in their prepubescence. But creepier-than-life Rae has managed to infiltrate the jury with Seth Michaels, a hustler who's done lots of dirty work for her in the past. Seth, however, has a change of heart and votes for Rae's guilt with the rest of the jury. This sends the mad sex pervert on a late-night rampage to Sherry Keith's house. Her presence results from an intercepted phone message on Seth's answering machine: Joe had left his number, hoping to resume some groping he and Seth enjoyed a month or so earlier in the health club. If this seems confusing, it's because events unravel so implausibly here, though Joe does manage to have his first big night of hot sex. The hip patois and up-to-the-minute dance track pulsing in the background can't disguise the clich‚s of young love, nor explain the absurd counterplot.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster