Jun 29, 2022
A wistful, witty meditation on a gay man’s twilight years and the twilight of America
I could no longer deny what I was: an old man who liked to pee in his flower bed.” So says an unnamed sixtysomething living alone in an unnamed North Florida town. It’s a place of few residents, but 27 churches. The lake has gone dry, becoming prairie land. The man has stayed on in his dead parents’ house with their ashes and, like a pharaoh’s tomb, their stuff: his mother’s perfumes, a pack of Pall Malls his father left in the fridge, a crystal Virgin Mary. Andrew Holleran’s first novel in 16 years, The Kingdom of Sand is about death and taxes, literally, plus solitaire, car repairs and five-hour-long porn searches in the late Obama era. Out of this obstinate ennui, Holleran renders an elegiac and very funny contemplation of not just ageing but an age.
The opening chapters are listless and list-like, outlining dietary habits and lifts to the airport. Holleran is a perspicacious writer of place, and of mundanity; the first pages detail how the construction of two freeways and an overpass have made a cruisey video store on Highway 301 inconvenient. The result: no more passing trade, just desperate regulars, “egg-shaped men in loose T-shirts”, arthritic and/or pacemaker-dependent. “Too many cock-suckers,” as a friend puts it at lunch, “and not enough cock.” That friend doesn’t offer a goodbye hug, and on the way home the video store is as lugubrious as ever; the narrator remains untouched. Continue reading...
Mar 02, 2022
History repeats in this story of two gay British-Nigerian friends exploring race and masculinity
“Maybe fathers could explain sons?” wonders Achike, an actor in his late 30s with a film career on the ascendant yet a nagging sense of incompleteness. His childhood friend Ekene experiences manhood as a burden: “Why do I have to be this hard, painful thing? … Why can’t I be somebody’s boy?” Okechukwu Nzelu’s second novel, Here Again Now, begins with these two gay British-Nigerian men, then traces back to their fathers and their fathers before them, as well as a father figure, uncle and stepdad – variously disciplinarian, drunk, unavailable, absent, abusive and repressed. It’s a story made from broken family tree branches.
Achike has recently travelled to Nigeria to play dual roles in a movie set across two lifetimes. The script, titled Here Again Now, is based on an Igbo belief system in which humans are reincarnated into the same family line – in other words, set up for second chances. Having returned to south London, Achike lets both his alcoholic father Chibuike and jobless Ekene move in with him. Achike and Ekene have the same “long, clever fingers”, and were the only boys with Igbo names in their class in Manchester. But Achike can now afford a flat, expensive cologne and therapy sessions, whereas Ekene has abandoned his own dreams of acting and is struggling to get work as a teacher. Ekene can be blithe to the edge of cruelty. Achike is more disciplined, gallant, painfully earnest, prone to migraines. Continue reading...
Dec 10, 2021
From cruising to homophobia, Aids to Covid, seven men from different times tell their stories
Neil Bartlett is a gay writer’s gay writer. Also a theatre director and playwright, he is much admired for novels that conjure a sexy, illusory London, including the Costa-shortlisted Skin Lane. In his 1990 debut Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, a heady romance centred around an east London bar in the 1980s, the fear of bloody bashings is as palpable as the frissons of lust. In one passage, sybaritic men from prior centuries join in the party like fabulous ghosts. This transhistorical stagecraft is a queer strategy for grappling with a secret and censored past: to Bartlett, there can be no gay ancestry without fabulation.
In the tender and curious Address Book, domestic spaces inform life experiences, which become subject to the whims of memory. Seven discrete chapters, each titled with an address in or near London, are delivered, monologue-like, by seven different narrators. The book opens during the Covid pandemic. Andrew, a doctor, is packing to move when he comes across a phone number that prompts a recollection of being a desirous teenager, and the suntanned man who gave him a blowjob that made him burst into song. The orgasm isn’t the only epiphany. In his memory, the man smiles unguardedly at the boy, who’d previously only known cruising to be accompanied by scowls. Having exchanged names, the boy realises: “None of the other men I’ve met has ever made me admit that the boy doing the staring and the boy with my name are the same person.” Continue reading...