The search for security, and the longing to break free from it, roils the lives of young gay men in these wry, hopeful stories.
In his first collection, Harper gives us a gallery of 20-somethings, many with older lovers or husbands, trying to reconcile inchoate ambitions with prosaic realities: a ne’er-do-well crashes at his brother’s house and descends into a feud with his scheming fiancee; a callow student undergoes an extreme body-piercing ritual as a seemingly supportive entree into a domestic household; a pastry chef reluctantly goes house hunting with his older lover but is drawn to the disheveled artist next door; an uncouth renter disrupts a couple’s staid lives; a grad student ponders the hidden exploitation lurking in his estranged father’s conservative church; a group of friends spends a weekend reliving their high school fantasy-gaming rituals as their leader slips into a breakdown; an older man’s offer of help to a young strip-club dancer turns rather dark; a young novelist becomes obsessed with the corpse of a woman that washes ashore in the fishing village where he is summering. Harper’s protagonists are sensitive, talented (but not too talented) youths with dreams of creative lives that they find difficult to square with their circumstances and relationships. Far from the glitter of New York and San Francisco, they are dependent on stable, boring partners, whom they often resent, and are immured in the sterile strip malls and bland apartment complexes of a downscale suburbia that has few beguiling, treacherous oases of bohemian grunge. Harper draws this landscape with a superb eye for detail and feel for atmosphere, writing with a limpid, pitch-perfect prose, suffused with a mordant humor and flashes of wistful lyricism. He perfectly captures the fecklessness of a certain age and mindset while investing it with real psychological depth and emotional resonance—and even with an air of mystery and possibility that belies the seeming banality of his characters’ lives.
A fine debut collection from a gifted chronicler of contemporary queer discontents.