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A slow-paced, sometimes sexually graphic debut novel: an ambitious evocation of gay life in the '70s and '80s that follows a handful of lives through the ravishments of AIDS. Narrator Robbie Taylor arrives in New York in 1978, having abandoned both his religious upbringing and his alcoholic father. Confidently gay, Robbie soon finds himself blissfully enmeshed in the city's underground social life. He meets Vince, who guides him through gay New York, as well as Jeff, Nathan, and Denise, among others. This first section (""Camelot"") is filled not only with the youthful innocence and hygienic heedlessness of the era, but with lovers' spats, sexual encounters, and the tiresome examination of hurt feelings. Robbie settles down with Nathan, who, as the second section (""Krypton"") begins, is diagnosed HIV-positive. As Nathan receives treatment for AIDS, it is sometimes painful to read Robbie's reactions to his lover's suffering--reactions that are confined to his own feelings of disgust, hatred, and personal victimization. After Nathan's death, Robbie receives a long-distance invitation from Denise, and, sorrowfully single, joins her in L.A. There, he's reunited with Vince and Jeff and moves in with Denise, her lover Linda, and Linda's child Amy. For the reader, though, few of these events provoke the emotions that the lives and sufferings of fully-written characters might have. Robbie remains sketchy, as do most of his friends. Finally (in ""Oz""), Robbie is a single gay man cohabiting with Tony and also with a lesbian who's borne him a child: Robbie's now reconciled, if not quite ""happy."" An overlong debut focusing on social habits and on detail (about clothing, furniture, and male anatomy) at the expense of persuasively written characters who might have deepened the impact of the real--and potentially feelable--suffering here.

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 1998
Page count: 428pp
Publisher: Overlook