Sexual abuse, incest, pansexualism, and Native American spirituality—explored so well by Spanbauer in the cult favorite The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (1991)—combine with early–AIDS-era New York for a work that’s utterly fresh but crammed with enough characters, subplots, coincidences, and romances to keep several telenovelas churning for years.
Will Parker may stutter and be both sexually confused and dysfunctional, but he’s a real people magnet. Having escaped provincial Jackson Hole for 1983 Manhattan, he’s not five minutes at LaGuardia before he’s hooked up with Two Shots, a Native American van-driver, and Ruby, his gay male side-kick; in no time they’ve settled Will into his Lower East Side digs and themselves into his life. East Fifth Street is crowded with the requisite New Yorkers of fiction: across the hall is a mad cat-lady, upstairs is Rose, the tough African-American drag queen/performance artist with a heart of gold, and downstairs is the junkie superintendent. Hackneyed types to be sure, but with sharp dialogue and details, Spanbauer infuses them with new life. Waiting tables, Will meets Fiona, a rough-mouthed, Greenwich, Connecticut, would-be artiste who takes Will under her wing and under the sheets. There’s plenty of graphic, although not gratuitous, sex as Will trades experience and love for self-knowledge. As 1983 moves on to ’84 and ’85, AIDS takes over: co-workers die, friends disappear, Rose—now a lover of Will’s—sickens, Fiona’s two brothers die. The slow slide into the world of the epidemic, with its sense of unreality and despair, has never been better realized. But there’s too much more going on here: a murder, a squatters’ riot in a local park, cultural repatriation, and Elizabeth Taylor, arriving for a slow dance with her best friend Rose. Will’s occasional and abrupt flights into magical realism only serve to make the story—already saddled with superfluous, undisciplined subplots—feel more out of control.
A haunting and undeniably powerful work marred by its own excesses.