The Kingdom of Sand by Andrew Holleran review – sex and solitude

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.

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