It's odd that a novel in which a gay-bashing murder is treated so casually should be so esteemed in the US. I thought y'all had decided that it was no longer OK to beat gay men to death for casual come-ons. But then the US is moving back in time so quickly that perhaps I'm thinking of a moment now far in the future.
Frey ticks off the entire Hemingway shopping-list, including boxing and impotence (which Frey blames, of course, on the drugs, the drugs, the terrible drugs). He goes on at great length about the importance of watching a title fight, which makes him and his fellow rehab patients feel like "men."
Women are minor characters in the book, and the least-convincing passages of all are those in which Frey attempts to hint at a grand love affair in the past or tries to contrive a love interest with an addicted former prostitute, Lilly. Here's the hymn to love with which he ends a chapter:
"I miss Lilly.
I miss Lilly.
I miss Lilly."
My reading of this passage is that he missed Lilly. But then I'm a trained literary critic. Other readers may have other, equally valid interpretations.
Frey misses Lilly so much, so often, that you begin to suspect she didn't exist, and was added to the text to neutralize the lifelong homosexual panic in which this belated Norman Mailer finds himself. It's a pity Frey never studied Stevens. If he had, he'd have known that the more times one repeats an assertion, the less convincing it becomes.
With Lilly and the gay-bashing story in place to reassure the reader that Frey is a man's man, Frey feels free to devote the last third of the book to protracted and lachrymose farewells. Frey, who's now the toughest and most beloved guy in the whole rehab clinic, says goodbye to all his streety friends with many a sniffle and hug.
The sheer, crude, maudlin bathos of the farewells first amused and then began to frighten me. Here, for example, is Frey's moment of bonding with his black New Orleans clarinet-playing Judge roommate:"I am a Criminal and he is a Judge and I am white and he is black, but at this moment none of that matters."
Oh, but that's nothing. He's got a million sob-scenes more self-indulgent and false than that one. How about this example of closely-observed detail: "[Lilly] smiles. With her lips, her teeth, her eyes, her shaking hand." I just wish I could figure out how she managed to make her shaking hand smile. That would be worth watching.
As his utterly unconvincing romance with Lilly progresses, Frey dives deeper and deeper into cliche: "I am in love with a Girl, a beautiful and profoundly troubled Girl who is alone in the World...."
The man was born too late; he should have been writing subtitles for silent-film melodrama.
Sticking closely to silent-film formula, Frey (and I think caps are warranted here) Rescues the Girl. Now he is ready to go out and face the world.
All that's left is, oh, 120 pages or so of tearful farewells. He says goodbye to his dorm warden:
"He reaches and I reach and our hands meet. We hold strong and firm we stare in each other's eyes and there is a bond of respect."
Then it's on to the clarinet-paying roommate:
"He reaches out his hand and I take it and we shake hands. We release each other's hands and we hug each other. We hold each other for a moment and Miles says good luck, James and I say you too, Miles."
And before we can even wipe the tears from our eyes, Frey is parting from his counselor and her tough yet sensitive Fisherman boyfriend: "I step forward and I hug her. There is emotion in the hug, and there is respect and a form of love. Emotion that comes from honesty, respect that comes from challenge, and the form of love that exists between people whose minds have touched, whose souls have touched. Our minds touched. Our hearts touched. Our souls touched."
If you can find a worse paragraph than that in any published book, I'd like to see it. At least it disposes of one more character. Alas, Frey must still hug the Counsellor's boyfriend, who says -- I swear to God, this is a direct quote: "I ain't much for words, kid."