Russell (Boys of Life, 1991) limns his family drama's main themes with masterful strokes, although the rest of the canvas pales in comparison. Allen Cloud is a fine astronaut but a lousy husband and father; he can make it to the moon, but can't go the distance in his marriage. Oblivious to his wife Joan's unhappiness (and alcoholism), flustered by her decision to leave, and shaken by her suspicion that their son Jonathan is gay, he lets them drift out of his life in Houston to a small town in Tennessee. While Joan slips deeper into alcoholism, Jonathan revels in his homosexuality, wholeheartedly embracing life and just about every man who comes his way. In Tennessee, he elicits the passion of a repressed preacher's son, with painful and longranging consequences. Jonathan is at once the linchpin and the squeaky wheel of this novel, a ridiculously precocious high school student at the outset who continues to be the magical, mystical center around which everyone's life seems to revolve at the conclusion more than 20 years later. Yet the precocity and wit designed to make Jonathan special are rather overused traits in contemporary gay fiction, which may be why the other characters always seem more in awe of him than the reader is. And the action slows badly and loses credibility when mother and son decide to move to Turkey and live, most conveniently, on insurance money long untouched. Despite these weaknesses, there is some breathtaking writing here. Russell weaves a web of personal relationships subtly and expertly, teasing out in the process human truths that shock and satisfy. This orchestration comes to a gratifying and occasionally bittersweet climax at the novel's close, when Jonathan's fate becomes almost incidental to the positive effects he's wrought, albeit often painfully, in others' lives. A worthwhile if somewhat bumpy ride through 20 years of one remarkable family's life.