A gay scholar meditates on a lifetime of losses and humiliations both before and during the age of AIDS.
This second novel by Weir (The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket, not reviewed) is set during a single day in 2000: Tom, a 40-something community-college English teacher and novelist living in New York, is roped into joining his childhood friend Richie as he meets an Internet acquaintance for a date. This small event provokes a cascade of memories for Tom, most of them deeply melancholic: the sad, slow death of his friend Zack as he succumbed to AIDS, the insults and worse from his classmates and teachers in high school who publicly berated him for being (or at least seeming) gay, his complicated emotional and sexual relationship with his friend Ava. Many of Tom’s remembrances are of being a gay man in the ’80s, which inevitably makes this novel at least partly an AIDS elegy—as Weir writes, “we didn’t have much of a context except illness and death.” But despite its title, and despite the fact that Tom is the contemplative and moody sort, this book is never burdened by a somber, self-pitying tone. If anything, Tom’s main torment—the crush he has on Justin, a young, handsome and talented student—brings energy and a feeling of optimism to the story. Weir’s finest achievement is the way he connects disparate events to create a sort of emotional synthesis—as when a trip to Herman Melville’s grave with Justin segues into Zack’s final days, and a stop at Richie’s apartment gives way to a memory of a high-school beating. Individually, they’re just scraps of events; woven together, they become revelatory passages on the wounds each of the characters bear, and on what gives them the strength to move their lives forward.
Familiar themes for a gay novel, but Weir conveys them inventively and effectively.