Following his debut (Darling, 1992) about boy-cow love, Tester offers 11 stories exploring the dirty thoughts that bubble inside a young man’s head while he’s doing everyday things.
Most concern a nervous and only moderately likable boy named Nim growing up on a hardscrabble farm near the Florida Everglades. In “Wet,” he’s just 16, helping his stepfather Lloyd put a barbed-wire fence around a pond. While Nim slaves away in the heat and rain, he never stops thinking about the night before—the beer he drank and the sex he didn’t have. In “Whispers,” he watches from the rafters of a bathhouse while his sister and her friend take a shower. “Cousins” has him hoeing corn with his cousin Kay. After trying to look down her blouse all day, he awkwardly spends the evening trying to get into her pants. Eventually, he grows up and takes his adolescent views of sex to New York City, where, in “Bad Day,” he carries on a “half-hearted, sick flirtation” in the office of a record company. In “Immaculate,” he spends a lonely night trying not to smoke while watching the naked girl in the opposite apartment decide which outfit to wear. Only in “Floridita” are we given any real insight into Nim’s fear of intimacy. “Come home already, dad,” he begs the old reel-to-reel recorder as he listens to the tape his father sent back from Vietnam. The inner demon driving Nim and other male characters here comes through best in “Who’s Your Daddy Now?” Handyman Otis, going to work in the Hamptons, observes of women: “They won’t let you know if you’re winning . . . and you can’t let them know you’re scared.”
The stories about sexual uncertainty are quite wonderful when Nim is young. But those turning to older males, who should have worked the kinks out of that muscle between their ears, become quickly tedious and unpleasant.