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A fixture of the gay literary scene for decades, Picano (To the Seventh Power, 1989, etc.) merits more respect for his earnestness and the expansive nature of his latest effort, an attempt to sum up queer culture since the end of WW II, than he does for his prose. Picano paints with broad strokes, adopting the now familiar gay-novelist tactic of integrating a few personal narratives with the sweep of history. In the closeted 1950s, staid narrator Roger Sansarc is visited by his precociously flamboyant cousin, Alistair Dodge, the sort of bratty twerp who takes coffee with the grownups, makes other kids watch Fred Astaire flicks with him, and still manages to affect a formidable carapace, mainly because he woos authority while trashing its rules. After a gap of several years, during which both boys hit teendom, Picano relocates the story to the West Coast, where Roger is visiting Alistair: By far the book's snazziest, this section reads like a campy, more conservative precursor to Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero. Gay ideologies eventually take over, however. The narrative's structure shifts between the present and the slippery past: In the former, Alistair has been ravaged by AIDS, and Roger has taken up with a much younger man whose politics are solidly ACT UP; in the latter, Rog and Stairs float from coast to coast, bumping into each other at places like Woodstock and sharing an obsession for Matt Loguidice, a not-too-swift poet who functions as the novel's Achilles, right down to his bum foot, the result of an encounter with a mine in Vietnam. When the Grim Reaper finally catches up with the mercurial Stairs, matters at last rise above the level of mere chronicle and bitchy humor, but it's too little, too late. A wonderful survey from someone who knew everybody and saw it all. But knowledge and experience are not always enough.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Viking