In this collection of short fiction, gay men struggle with relationships, sexuality, and life.
The volume’s six stories primarily explore the experiences of a variety of gay men. These range from a privileged high school athlete, trying to figure out his place in the world, to men just past youth seeking to make their way in Manhattan, to an aging man whiling away his final days in an upstate New York nursing home. The cleverer that Hill (Myxocene, 2015, etc.) gets, the less engaging his stories become. In the titular tale, an elderly man tries to comprehend the concepts—such as polyandry and nonbinary gender identity—that inform his grown grandchildren’s lives. While the narrator’s well-meaning attempts at understanding remain endearing, too much emphasis is placed on the premise, giving the account a sitcom feeling. The collection’s one dud, “The Prince and the Executioner,” is set “long ago in the Frenglish Kingdom of Facedom.” The faux medieval surroundings are apparently meant as a lens to establish a parable around real issues—a key question presented is “how could the King tolerate a Prince turned Princess?”—but the conceit, speech, and plot become too stilted and haphazard. On the other hand, the two stories situated in the more expected locale of early 21st-century Manhattan are very powerful. In both “The Nose” and “The Dried Plum and the Envelope,” heavy-drinking gay men circling 30 find ways to come to terms with disappointment and the choices they’ve made. Hill firmly controls the (very different) voices of each of these characters, and he deftly builds to moments of quiet betrayal. The elderly narrator of “The Final Plan” inhabits some of the same territory when he reminisces about his life in pre-AIDS Manhattan, “a place where you could feel sort of like you belonged and relatively safe.” Unfortunately, this tale soon veers into a convoluted nursing home drama. Hill’s exploration of the lives of gay men in New York is strong, nuanced, and originally drawn. The volume should be picked up for these narratives, but readers will likely wish Hill had stuck to this terrain throughout the book.
An uneven collection focusing on men, worth sifting through for the gems.