The collision of small-town phobias and high-priced realities.
In search of a relatively stable bucolic environment, Cameron Barnes, a gay Manhattan-via-Memphis landscape designer suffering from AIDS, has moved upstate to Stone Hollow, the stomping ground of various rednecks, good ol’ boys, and gays fleeing the metropolis, in order to relieve himself of the “neighborhoods too haunted with the ghosts of the dead” and live out a peaceful, loveless existence. His companion and lover, Dan, has recently left. Max, his best friend since Oberlin, is unwilling to let Cameron sink slothfully into hermitage, and though busying himself with a run for Mayor, takes time to set Cameron up with an HIV-positive graphic designer and to ridicule, passively, Cameron’s emotionally fatigued existence. Enter Jesse and Kyle Vanderhof, two brothers from the backwoods who’ve recently lost their father to liver cancer. Taking over Pop’s construction business, the two are hired on by Cameron to fix up a back shed. After an initial mix of stereotypical gay-bashing, racism, and redneck cartooning, Kyle and Jesse become rather lyrical and intimately drawn characters. Kyle is unruly, vindictive and conniving, while Jesse has a quiet and confused resentfulness—and it’s Jesse whose thoughts are followed closely. Cameron is intrigued by Jesse, who vacillates between parroting his brother’s thickheaded views and acting, with uneasy sensitivity, according to his own discoveries. At first, Russell (The Coming Storm, 1999, etc.) has difficulty reaching the high note of Cameron’s cultured dialogue and then shifting to the boys’ tough vernacular, but this disconnect eventually smoothes itself out. After milking several advances on their construction project, Kyle convinces Jesse that they may be able to make a profit off Cameron’s apparent intrigue with Jesse. Jesse agrees—but for his own clandestine purpose.
Thematically in tow with Russell’s previous five efforts (cosmopolitan male meets boy from sticks; bad things happen), this coming-of-age/end-of-life story discovers its own distinction through precise writing (mostly) and memorable people. Bittersweet and worthwhile.