A riveting, lyrical tale about a Black gay man’s unflinching odyssey during a cultural upheaval.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2022


In this novel set in 1980s New York City on the cusp of the AIDS crisis, an African American gay man explores the raptures and dangers of his complicated identity.

Slipping away from his job to indulge in anonymous lunch-hour sex in one of Central Park’s gay cruising areas, the narrator, who is only given the nickname Deep Thoughts, notices a sign admonishing pedestrians to “Stay on Paths. Avoid Desire Lines.” But Deep Thoughts’ life has already taken him far from the prescribed path of a working-class Black youth growing up in a 1970s Brooklyn housing project and yearning for the sexy sophistication of Manhattan. His first deviation came when a school desegregation lottery provided entrance to a mostly White school and the superior education it offered while driving “a wedge into my life that would forever separate me from my origins.” His second desire line was his gay identity, which transformed from subconscious longing to physical reality when he was 15 years old. By 1982, he had achieved his Manhattan dreams, living in a tenement in Hell’s Kitchen and inhabiting “a country where convention no longer matters.” Now, his life is fueled by drugs, easily available moments of intense physical release, and the exhilaration of being part of a newly awakening community in which pride still battles with shame. On the fringes of his awareness, newspapers begin to report a new disease with the bleakly ironic acronym AIDS, though “nothing about it promises to be the least bit helpful.” The precision and honesty of Johnson’s writing bring an immediacy and universality to a narrative that is firmly anchored in its historical time and its particular set of marginalized identities. The narrator’s gay world combines hard-boiled hipster coolness with an easily wounded sensitivity. The exultant freedom of the dance club and even the first anonymous sexual experience in a subway bathroom are portrayed with a poetic sensuality that invites empathy. Explorations of the Black experience are similarly nuanced and varied, from a description of the protagonist’s mother’s “proper family” with “good hair and paper-bag tested complexions” to the contradictions of African nations’ emerging from colonization, learned during Deep Thoughts’ Peace Corps stint in Zaire.

A riveting, lyrical tale about a Black gay man’s unflinching odyssey during a cultural upheaval.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-9850341-0-3

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Querelle Press

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.


A fictional account of the agony and ecstasy of making a movie, from someone who’d know.

For his sprightly debut novel, actor/writer/national treasure Hanks—author of the story collection Uncommon Type, 2017—imagines the making of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, a mashup of Marvel-esque superhero fare, war story, and artsy melodrama. The movie’s concept seems like an unworkable, even bad idea, which is part of the point—Hanks stresses the notion that successful movies aren’t just a matter of story but the people who make them. So he’s assembled an engrossing cast of characters: Bob Falls, the World War II vet who served as a flamethrower in the Pacific theater and became a PTSD–struck biker; Robby Andersen, the nephew who turned him into alternative-comix antihero Firefall; Bill Johnson, the well-decorated Spielberg-ian director who acquires the Firefall property and writes the script; and the small army of actors, assistants, and technicians charged with shooting the film in the Northern California town of Lone Butte—on time, lest morale collapse and the budget inflate. Hanks ably depicts how easily things derail. The male lead’s ego wrecks the shooting schedule. A stray social media post complicates security. On-set flirtations threaten a marriage. But the novel reflects the sunny stick-to-it-iveness of many of Hanks’ roles, and his central thesis is that every movie’s true hero is anybody who reduces friction. To that end, his most enchanting and best-drawn characters are the director’s assistant, Al Mac-Teer (full name Allicia), and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver with no movie experience but a knack for problem-solving. “Most of the film business is done by meeting folks,” one character says, and Hanks suggests that meeting the right people—and being kind to them—is half the battle of successful moviemaking. Overly romantic? Consider the source. Regardless, it’s a well-turned tale of a Hollywood (maybe) success. (Sikoryak illustrates some comic-book pages related to the Firefall backstory and film.)

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780525655596

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

Did you like this book?