When his partner of 15 years leaves him, middle-aged gay Joel Lingeman is forced to come to terms with his past fantasies and reexamine things as they are.
Joel has lived on autopilot for years, sleepwalking through a passionless relationship and working in a dull Capitol Hill job that would offend his political sensibilities if he took it more seriously. But when Sam, his live-in lover, walks out, Joel is jolted into consciousness. In fits and starts, he attempts to build a new social life and to speak up at work. It isn’t easy to get back into the DC dating scene; he was never adept at meeting guys, and now—overweight, unkempt, and a bit long in the tooth—he’s having an even harder time. Meanwhile, on the Hill, nasty antigay legislation inches closer to becoming law, but Joel fails to appreciate the danger until it’s too late. Though he can’t muster the moxie to fix his love life or come out to Congress, Joel shows surprising determination in tracking down a swimsuit model who appeared in an ad in 1964, fueling Joel’s adolescent dreams and shaping his adult notions of physical desire. What he hopes to find by locating this man is a mystery, but the search itself helps him discover how he ended up where he did. Sometimes, Merlis posits, it’s necessary to look backward and make peace with our former selves to move forward. Less insightful than his dazzling debut, American Studies (1994), and less ambitious than An Arrow’s Flight (1998), but, still, this is carefully worded, with the author’s flair for subtle introspection and keen observation. The characters’ outward interactions may seem unremarkable, and the settings—Congress and gay bars—alternately comic and tragic, but Merlis reaches a level of thoughtful reflection that sings with poignancy.
A small tale about an ordinary man—though one with unusual resonance for gay men who’ve outgrown “the scene.”