A Gatsbyesque story following four Americans from the end of WWII through the late ’50s, as they struggle, self-indulgently, with the meaning of life.
Billy Roamer is a small-town New England boy who, despite rough beginnings, wins the esteem of his high-school teacher, a wealthy, radical leftist who sees the teenager’s potential and arranges for him to attend Columbia. There, Billy shares a room with Brandon, wealthy, homosexual, and trying hard to create for himself a personality based on a contemporary version of Oscar Wilde. Billy gets sucked into Brandon’s East Hampton world of privilege, booze and boredom, and soon Billy, Brandon, and Brandon’s childhood friends Amelia and Lucinda form what they dub the “inner circle.” During the summer Billy stays with Brandon, and falls in love with Amelia, spoiled, aloof and devastatingly charming. And so begins Billy’s not-so-serious downward spiral—his love for Amelia persists after she dumps him to go to Paris, where she marries and has a child. Meanwhile, Billy and Brandon finish school, Brandon to pursue acting and Billy to work for his mentor’s leftist journal, while their friend Lucinda engages in a string of good works—helping to form a kibbutz in Israel, aiding in Third World relief, and occasionally coming back to the States to sleep with Billy. DeMaria (Carnival of Angels, not reviewed, etc.) keeps tabs on the era by placing his characters in the right place at the right time: Billy writes about the Rosenberg’s trial, Brandon hobnobs with Ginsburg and Kerouac, Amelia’s husband is involved with the revolution in Algeria. When Billy and Brandon decide to move to Paris, where they hope to recapture the dwindling bonhomie of their youth, they reconnect with Amelia, by now unhappy and alcoholic, and perhaps keeping a secret regarding her son’s paternity.
A story overshadowed by attempts to evoke an era, all too often leaving characters shadowy figures on the playing field of history. At times fascinating, at others flat.