BODY BLOWS by Steven Simmons


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A dreamy, highly stylized first novel about a gay California hustler who murders a john; slick surfaces, empty melodrama, quasi-40's glamour. Cal Lynch is a young actor living in San Francisco and doing community theater, hoping for a break. Although trained as an architect, he's unable to find a job, and is supporting himself by working as a gay hustler through ads he places in local papers: ""LET A HORNY CONSTRUCTION WORKER FULFILL YOUR FANTASIES."" He makes enough to get by as long as his wealthy ex-lover Phillip (""a confirmed physical and emotional masochist"") pays his expensive rent. The rest of his time is spent working out in the gym and hanging around gay bars with Max, his friend and occasional twosome partner--all of this takes place in pre-AIDS 1978. Cal's chic, slightly desperate life is rocked when he's picked up by a trick who pulls a gun on him and then rapes him--when the man drops his guard, Cal grabs the weapon and murders him, even though he probably could've escaped without doing so, and thus begins a flight of several months, first to Oklahoma, where he attempts to pick up the pieces of an irritatingly vague and disjointed past, and where he is seduced by a man who turns out to be a private detective. He escapes once again, to Los Angeles, where he has a brief fling with an older woman (Cal is occasionally bisexual) before returning to San Francisco, where he finds out that the gumshoe was hired by poor Phillip, who thought Cal might've gone off with another lover. As the novel ends, he meets another gay hustler named Buddy, who had been accused of the murder Cal himself had committed, but cleared. ""Unlike Buddy, I will never tell my story,"" muses Cal. ""With luck, we'll both survive."" Simmons can be an interesting writer when he's not chasing the ghost of James M. Cain--there's a fine, evocative sense here of a doomed peace before the coming storm of AIDS. But the murky relationships, the lassitudinous romances, the arch and deliberate lack of affect, all add up, in the end, to pretentious, mesquite-grilled California corn.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1986
Publisher: Dutton