Third by Goodman (In Days of Awe, 1991, etc.) is a gay coming-of-ager that never quite matures.
Simon is the son of college professors Genna and Jack Barish. His truculent but way cooler younger sister Lizzie, and Sam, the obstreperous BoBo trophy hound, round out a family that’s perfectly normal in every way except—Simon is gay, and he’s just come out while watching Father of the Bride with his parents. Recounted by Jack Barish in an extended flashback (a superfluous device at best), the story follows Simon from a performing arts academy in Cincinnati to a down-at-heels high school in the backwater town of Tipton, Ohio, site of his parents’ university. There, Simon (a gentle soul in a linebacker’s body, with an otherworldly basso voice) encounters the usual corridor cadre of homophobic bullies. Even in the impossibly rustic university town, though, Simon finds a few like-oriented classmates, such as fellow chorister Peter and trailer-trash hottie Rich. Meanwhile, Jack ricochets improbably between amazing sex with Genna and an affair that threatens to end his marriage for real this time. (The first affair only prompted Genna to drive aimlessly, like a Joan Didion heroine without LA freeways.) Jack’s research project on the possibility of a “gay gene” ties in neatly with Genna’s search for her biological father, who turns out to be gay and living in San Francisco. Mystery of Simon’s seemingly unprecedented musicality and sexual orientation solved—although even macho-progenitor Jack does have his “bi’ moment. Why Simon can’t go live with his grandfather right away is anybody’s guess, but, instead, our hero soldiers on in durance vile, triumphs in the school musical, and has a final, gratuitously catastrophic, encounter with the bullies. Certain elements—smoking-gun mash notes, for example—are left dangling.
A melodramatic ending adds to the flaws in what’s, still and all, a passably entertaining, fair-enough portrait of youthful awakening and middle-aged reckoning.