Mayes's debut of interconnected short stories explores the common themes of love and sexuality with a fresh new sensitivity. Omar and Bennie are the childhood friends whose wanderings, relationships, and loves make up this book as Mayes follows the lives of gay men from initial encounters with homosexuality to commitment to lifelong companions. He is especially strong in his descriptions of young boys' first experiences, which range from comic and obvious to sweet and subtle. During the summer of 1971 (""Peggy Hagerman's Bikini"") in Mud Lake, Mich., Omar and Bennie's fascination with a precocious neighbor evolves from stealing her bathing suit to wearing women's clothes to trying to con the town's teenage Don Juan into dating Bennie; in the end, their dress-up game proves more than a meaningless escapade. In ""International Male,"" an uncle tries to ease his gay nephew's transition into adulthood with honest advice like ""you got to know for sure [you're gay] before you go making plans."" On a more subtle note, (""Cow Girl""), Omar's lover remembers the confusing sexual tension that coursed through the house when his cousin and her girlfriend screamed, laughed, and made rhythmic slapping noises behind the guest bedroom door -- offering him a close-up glimpse at forbidden love. Mayes also paints convincing portraits of men struggling with their sexual identities: In ""Only in French,"" Omar, now a college student in Manhattan, unsuccessfully balances a girlfriend, love for his male roommate, and the disturbing news of a nearby murder during a gay-bashing spree. There are some flat and confusing moments in the finale, ""Saint Peter Cut to Pieces,"" with its visions of a dismembered saint, and the opening, ""Oblivion,"" with its disoriented old man and his retarded daughter. But elsewhere, when Mayes stays away from fantasy and illusion, his everyday shines with an extraordinary light. Gentle, endearing, sometimes campy, appropriately crass, often wry, always funny.