Irvine’s debut is a revenge story and a gay romance involving men coming to terms with their lives, sexuality and family secrets in the world of New York advertising.
Advertising heir Richard “Ric” Terrence Smythe-Bigge has it all, and longtime wingman Hal Burke is there to gush and narrate. Ric is the “spice rack of power, looks, money, and personality to the sauté pan of our relationship,” says the awestruck Hal with all the fawning of someone who’s been “riding in his draft” since college. But Ric is unhappy working for his legendary father, Malcolm. Extremely loathsome and despised by his family, Malcolm is suspected of having a hand in his brother Terry’s death. Now, a play written by Terry before he died is the torch Ric holds for his uncle’s unappreciated talent. Staging it could help Ric escape his father’s dark, sinister shadow. Ric and Hal get to work on the play, but every obstacle bears Malcolm’s fingerprints. After a commercial spot is sabotaged, Malcolm fires Ric and Hal, stripping Ric of his assets. During a retreat, Ric reveals to Hal that he’s gay; Hal feels betrayed yet accepting. Ric disappears into gay life and, banished from advertising, uses his only remaining resources to make a living. Hal, meanwhile, is rehired by Malcolm, and for several years, “Life spread its opportunities before me like a nymphet dropping rose petals in a DeMille epic.” Hal comes into his own by living the dream life Ric once possessed, yet something is missing. The two reunite to find they have something much deeper than platonic friendship; and when Malcolm decides to retire, his farewell retrospective involves his estranged family and reveals more than they’d like to make known. With a narrator who possesses a creative and confident point of view, and whose prose is breezy enough to blow off Andy Warhol’s toupee, this over-the-top novel of self-discovery rarely bores. Irvine can sometimes confuse volubility with wit, yet the verbal overkill often succeeds as Hal’s observations compellingly depict the depth and breadth of his hero worship: “In his way, Ric was like a movie,” Hal says. “His cyan eyes were the marquee to a soul wherein lived all the heavyweights: Action, Adventure, Romance, Mystery, Comedy!” Who wouldn’t want a ticket to the show?
An intriguing, multifaceted read highlighted by an alluring lead and his loquacious sidekick.