In Smith’s novel, a young man finds that it’s time to grow up and change his reckless behavior after he loses his dear friend to AIDS.
David Mathews has come into a good-sized inheritance, including a Manhattan loft and a beach house in the Hamptons. But this sudden wealth doesn’t stop him from hustling—the sexual currency he’s grown accustomed to in New York. It was hustling that introduced him to the man who left him a fortune: Robert, a charming man who profiled David in his magazine and took him under his wing. One of David’s habits is imagining the characters in his memories as famous people, from Matt Dillon to Didi Conn; he does this instead of facing his real recollections, ever since he ran away from Arkansas as a teenager. David still grieves for Robert, who died of AIDS, but despite his proximity to the devastating disease, he still has unprotected sex. Indeed, it becomes David’s thrill and secret—one he continues to keep even after Robert appears to him as a ghost, acting as a chatty sidekick while David navigates the ups and downs of his life. When David’s estranged family calls him home to see his dying mother, Robert’s ghost comes along, for better or worse. Once there, David meets Chris, an artist who has stricter boundaries regarding safe sex. Before David’s mother dies, he learns a secret that brings his real memories back to him, and casts his sexual behavior in a different light. It will take the kindness of a transgender nurse, and Chris’ convictions as a gay man and an artist, for David to become the man that Robert always knew he was. The political landscape of the novel is commendably and easily woven into the characters’ interactions, while never overpowering the plot. Mentorship and love are beautifully illustrated in David’s relationships with both Robert and Chris. The appearance of Robert’s ghost allows readers to understand the complexities of David’s grief. The story is a bit slow to start, and each chapter is distractingly and confusingly accompanied by a dated list, which doesn’t match the chapter’s time frame. Also, although the characters are well-drawn, they aren’t a huge departure from LGBT characters readers may have met before. Overall, however, this is an ambitious novel that delivers redemption with humor and heart.
A sincere journey of transformation that successfully balances politics and storytelling with heartwarming results.