Back to basics: from the masterful Mark Merlis , a merely pleasant novel disappoints. – An Arrow’s Flight – book review
Man About Town * Mark Merlis * Fourth Estate/HarperCollins * $24.95
Mark Merlis’s last novel, An Arrow’s Flight, hit the literary bull’s-eye. A hip updating of the Trojan War and the story of Achilles, it created a lush world of hustlers, sailors, gay bars, and Greek mythology that astonished critics and readers by the sheer force of the author’s imagination.
Merlis’s new book, Man About Town, is something else entirely: It is the very model of a conventional gay novel. Though it deals with many of Flight’s themes (the homosexual mindset, the old man-young man relationship, the power of the flesh), it does so “straight”–no literary conceits, no artistic bells and whistles here.
Our hero, Joel, is a middle-aged bureaucrat whose lover has just left him. The setting is contemporary Washington, D.C., where Joel, the world’s foremost authority on a very minor point of Medicare legislation, is being drawn into the drafting of an antigay AIDS bill. But most of the action–or lack thereof–centers around Joel’s lack-luster dating skills and his eventual search for a male model whose picture he saw in a magazine 30 years ago.
Man About Town will entertain many readers. It is clever, perceptive, reader-friendly, and solidly middle-class. It has much to say about the homosexual predicament. But it never comes together. What should be channing never quite is, what should speed along like an express train makes too many stops, and all the delightful things the reader imagines will happen next don’t. The result is something I thought I’d never say about a book from Mr Merlis–it’s a little too ordinary.
Plunket is the author of My Search for Warren Harding and Love Junkie.
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