Biographer of poet Frank O'Hara, novelist Gooch (Scary Kisses, 1988) here tells us everything we ever wanted to know about the dark and decadent gay subculture in Manhattan before AIDS altered the landscape: A well-written and intelligent novel that's of more than sociological or historical interest. At the center of this voyeuristically compelling narrative is a relationship similar to that between hustler aesthete Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. In Gooch's fictional version, Sean Devlin, a small-town boy from Pennsylvania, drops out of Columbia to become a filmmaker. Admittedly ``self-involved, vague, and indifferent,'' Sean makes up quickly for his chaste adolescence by plunging into New York's gay scene of bathhouses, bars, and porn theaters. In the Village, he encounters the ``outlaw'' Annie Boyle while she's publicly preaching the virtues of masturbation, in her own unique version of performance art. Soon, like Mapplethorpe and Smith, they're rooming together at the Chelsea Hotel, masturbating together, and dreaming of God (i.e., Andy Warhol). Fueled with all sorts of drugs, Sean becomes ``a voyeur of his low life'' and enjoys a number of increasingly kinky scenarios at the baths, where he's tied up, spanked, etc. His first artsy feature, the quasi- pornographic Sean Has His Nipple Pierced, draws the attention and patronage of the sophisticated collector Edgar Savage, who introduces Sean to the haute homosexual world of the Upper East Side. In the legendary bars of the West Village and on the old piers, Sean indulges his taste for rough and rougher trade. As both Annie and Sean become semi-famous, he explores the darkest realms of gay sex, the netherworld of ``penetration and death.'' Sean the observer soon becomes the observed as he films himself being gang- raped, but goes too far when an anonymous master/slave scene threatens his life. Chastened, he discovers true love--too late. A solid, unblinking, unsentimental look at a vanished era.