An overwrought account of first gay love, from the North Carolinian playwright and novelist (Winter Birds, 1994), whose ornately lyrical style requires a firmer foundation than is provided by his perilously shapeless plot. Bookworm Nathan, a high-school sophomore, is as lonely as he is bright. The only child of a prodigiously disturbed southern family, he's subjected to unremitting emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of his drunkard father while his morbidly religious mother looks passively on. As the perennial new kid in town--Nathan's father is a salesman, the family moves around a lot--Nathan is used to having few friends, and it is at first his solitude as much as his teenage libido that responds to Roy Connelly, the boy next door who takes Nathan under his wing and introduces him to his classmates at school. Although Roy is two years ahead of Nathan, Nathan becomes Roy's tutor and--almost simultaneously--his lover. The brutality of Nathan's family life makes his need for some kind of physical or emotional escape patently clear from the start, but Roy is more of an enigma: He's a seemingly well-adjusted heterosexual with a normal family and a girlfriend, so it's not at all clear what brings him into the younger boy's ken, and this want of motive makes him appear all the more mysterious and ethereal in Nathan's eyes. This ethereality moves beyond the realm of metaphor toward the story's close, however, when the familiar tragedy of star-crossed lovers is surmounted by a magical-realist climax that comes out of nowhere and is yoked by violence onto a plot that seems unsuited for it. By turns rambling and precious, the narrative becomes incoherent by the end. A disappointing second from this award-winning writer.