Taking a thread from his last novel, The Cosmology of Bing (2001), for his fifth, Cullin uses a true story and his true gift for grit to record the unraveling of a high-school English teacher as he moves a bit too inexorably from heterosexual family life to a gay nightlife, and ultimately to murder.
In a beginning reminiscent of a Terry Gilliam movie, the reader stands on the edge of a world of subterraneans: furtive characters emerging from their sewer- and drain-pipes only long enough to find food and firewood. But the futuristic feel quickly falls away, revealing the city of Phoenix just over the saguaro-studded hill, and one man comes to the fore. Nameless, befriended by a kindly crazy with an idea about zippered cattle as a perfect food source, “the man” sleeps badly and remembers too well. First, he reveals his former middle-class life: nice wife, two great kids, a job he loves. But his wife’s not interested in sex anymore, so night after night, the family asleep, he prowls—first just driving, then visiting the backrooms of an adult bookstore, where he discovers the delights of the “glory holes,” and finally to the dimly lit public toilet in a Phoenix park where the real action is. But an undercover cop is murdered there while the man is busy in a stall, and his double life is undone. Feeling guilty about having bolted the scene (and perhaps about his other secrets as well), he agonizes over what to do, and decides to tell his name and story to the police—an act that instantly makes John Connor a prime suspect. He hides among the homeless, hoping to find his partner from the night of the murder, who can vouch for him. By luck he does, but instead of redemption Connor winds up with another murder on his hands.
From deep inside the man’s head there’s no denying the completeness of his transformation, but even so the brutality of the endgame here seems to go a step too far.