Ten debut stories, spanning a period of 18-plus years, show a gay-oriented child on the one hand, and a gay adult on the other, yet they don’t cohere satisfyingly.
At first our unnamed narrator is in sixth grade, in the 1950s, living with his parents and older brother, Davis, in suburban Maryland. Along with his best friend, Denny, he likes to sneak into his mother’s bedroom and try on her dresses. He feels “beautiful, and guilty.” Then his mother finds out, and the narrator hates the exiled Denny—it’s easier than hating himself. In these early stories, the narrator is a “Momma’s boy,” while Davis pals around with their father (whose sudden death from hepatitis will be awkwardly shoehorned in). Davis does traditional boy stuff, unlike his namby-pamby brother, so it comes as a shock to learn that Davis is shy and fearful in high school, more of a shock when he comes out while the narrator stays in the closet, making for a difficult sibling relationship. Where’s the foreshadowing? The self-destructive Davis will be arrested three times, twice on drug charges, before fatally overdosing at 35. The narrator, with a better instinct for self-preservation, is now “the good son,” though glimpses of his adult life keep us disoriented. In Tangiers, a sexual cornucopia, he’s a shrinking violet, yet in Paris a quickie in a gay movie theater hits the spot. Later still, it emerges that his movie theater partner, Francisco, becomes a lover of sorts, contradicting an initial impression of anonymity. The treatment of an attorney, Eduardo, is similarly slipshod, shown as a long-term lover who unaccountably gets short shrift. Francisco and Eduardo both die of AIDS, as do many others, and in an odd little coda, the narrator and a female coworker who has lost her son join in a remembrance ritual on a lake.
Tales too wispy to capture gay life—or death, either, in its different guises.