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A first novel abrim with originality, narrated by a retarded gay hustler in his early 20s.

Like Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (an obvious antecedent), this ambitious work's nonlinear structure takes some getting used to. Even so, the payoff hits with surprising strength and justifies its strange unfolding and tangled timeline. Fatherless Earl has been kicked out of their Omaha, Nebraska, home by his mother and shipped by plane to Memphis, where his senile grandmother carries on daylong fights with her dead husband, thinks doper Earl is robbing her, and at last kicks him out too. Earl, who may have AIDS, has fallen for and chases about after Red, a worse-than-hustler in his late 20s who definitely has AIDS. Although Earl, always hazy about his motivations, doesn't understand that what he feels is love, he does manage to tell Red, "I want to stay with you, whatever that means. Whatever it's like. I ain't never stayed with nobody just cause I wanted to so I ain't got the first idea how it goes or what come next. But I ain't got nothing to lose neither . . . So I's free. You know? Free." Red pushes Earl off, which confuses his would-be swain but not the reader, who knows that one of Red's jobs is to provide sweet gay innocents for snuff films. Earl, who looks 15, would strike the hoods Red works for as a pure natural. Our dimwitted narrator is so naïve he has no idea how to please the johns who pay for his services in a Manhattan whorehouse; those scenes are among the many unrelentingly sordid moments stamped onto the reader's brain as if by a Federal Fiction Inspector.

A technical tour-de-force, but hard to enjoy unless you relish plunging into mental darkness as it strives upward for love. Calling Gus Van Sant from his own private Idaho.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-25232-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2000