Ross’ (Inside, 2013, etc.) literary novel considers the fraught relationship between a young gay man and his father.
When he is 8 years old, Anthony Dimora is swimming with his father in Lake Erie. They pretend that Anthony is a submarine and his father is a bridge so that Anthony can swim between his father’s legs, groping his father underwater where no one can see. “Swimming underwater, I lift my arm above my head. Daddy’s bulge feels firmer and pushes against my palm.” As Anthony comes up, gasping for air, his father affirms, “My boy’s just fine, isn’t he?” At least, that’s how Anthony remembers it. Growing up in the tightknit Italian-American community in Castleton, Pennsylvania, Anthony idolizes his father. But he’s also in love with him. As his gay identity develops, however, his relationship with his father becomes increasingly strained, and Anthony finds a surrogate dad in Tony Tomasso, his father’s friend. Tensions in his parents’ marriage, family secrets, and a conservative 1950s culture all weigh on the young man as he tries to understand his sexual orientation in a hostile environment. It isn’t until he reaches adulthood that he is able to examine the events of his early life—and his bond with his father—with clarity. When he finally realizes what truly happened, it may turn out to be even worse than the story he’s been telling himself all along. Ross’ prose is pliable and perfectly animates Anthony’s unique voice: “I look at the kitchen clock. Five-fifteen. Daddy doesn’t know I have paper dolls. Even though Mommy said he wouldn’t like me playing with them, she gave me the Hedy Lamarr paper doll set that she had as a girl. Mommy said Hedy Lamarr was a big movie star, but I’ve never heard of her.” While much of the novel’s material is quite dark, Ross renders it palatable through the humanity of his characters. And the bold exploration of a father and son’s relationship makes for a compelling reading experience.
A carefully wrought study of a gay boy’s coming-of-age.