A disappointing second effort from Zimler (The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, 1998), who follows up his early success with a lugubrious coming-out tale set in 1980s San Francisco. Magazine editor Bill Ticino grew up in Long Island and as a child was regaled with his sadistic Italian father’s tales of rape and pillage in Ethiopia. Bill eventually marries icy, beautiful Alexandra but can—t give up his philandering, which leads her to abandon him. Overcome with fear and loneliness, Bill decides to take in a boarder. The only marginally acceptable applicant turns out to be a soft-spoken foreigner named Peter, who moves in with his pet bird Maria and part of an enormous worm taken from a friend’s gastrointestinal tract. Although Bill finds most of Peter’s eccentricities more charming than not, the Nazi flag over the boarder’s desk is worrisome, as is his dubious sexuality. Peter has some odd friends, too: when Bill confesses to an interest in prostitution, Peter immediately takes him to meet Mara, a former streetwalker with the body of a 15-year-old who leads Bill through the lowest parts of the Tenderloin and introduces him to some of her friends in the trade. Mara admits to Bill that there’s a secret about Peter she can—t reveal. Soon enough, however, Bill discovers it on his own—and his life is changed forever. Immediately afterward Peter disappears without a trace. Bill is sad at first, but soon he meets and falls in love with Paul, a graphic designer for the San Francisco. The two live happily ever after. Sentimentality dressed up in purple prose (—The sad joke was that Alex and I were crippled twins hobbling along over our separate desert landscapes, stepping carefully over the cracked outcroppings of emotions we—d buried long ago . . .—).