SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION by David B. Feinberg

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A disjointed and derivative novel about gay life in Manhattan--a second attempt by Feinberg (Eighty-Sixed 1989) to strike sparks from the contemporary tragedy of AIDS. B.J. is already a self-described ""emotional black hole"" when he tests positive for the HIV virus. A bundle of neuroses whose narrative voice is a jittery rehash of every late-night talk-show quip, B.J. is perpetually on the make and is surrounded with others similarly obsessed. The irony of AIDS, of course, makes this a fairly frustrating lifestyle--everyone is talking about sex, but ever fewer are doing it. And so what we get, as the novel lurches from episode to episode, is chapter after chapter of missed connections: Cameron, Richard, Allan, Wendall, Roger. Counterpointing these chatty, time-killing nonhappenings--in which Feinberg recycles waiter jokes and celebrity scandals--are two grim interludes with dying friends Gordon and Seymour. Seymour's death throes are quite affecting, but since we don't meet him until page 112, when he's literally dying, his character is largely irrelevant to B.J.'s story. (In fact, the suspicion arises that until Seymour tested positive, B.J. didn't much think about him or his health.) That's the way it goes for much of the book--potential undermined by slapdash plotting and a near-total inattention to character development. There could have been a novel in this material, but as B.J. puts it: ""In the approaching-the-fin-de-siècle manner, one uses a less exacting set of criteria in selecting possible dates. In other words, we've lowered our standards."" This may be true for dating, but not for writing. Not for the mainstream, but not, either, destined to break any ground in the gay fiction market, although it may help pass the time on the airplane or the train.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0140148620
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Viking