Shy, afflicted with a stutter, and struggling with his sexuality, Will Parker comes to New York to escape the provincial western towns where he grew up. In New York, he finds himself surrounded for the first time by people who understand and celebrate his quirks and flaws. He also begins an unforgettable love affair with a volatile, six-foot-five African-American drag queen and performance artist named Rose. But even as he is falling in love with Rose and growing into himself, Will must watch as AIDS escalates from a rumour into a devastating tragedy. When a vicious riot erupts in a local park, Will seizes the chance to repay the city for all it has taught him, in a climax that will leave readers shaken, fulfilled, and changed.
An expertly drawn, starkly authentic, early-1980s Manhattan provides the setting for this sprawling novel by Spanbauer (The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon). It tells the story of Will Parker, a young man from Jackson Hole, Wyo., who comes to the "Wolf Swamp" of New York in search of his boyhood first love, Charlie. After Will secures a seedy apartment, a bevy of tough, typecast but blissfully genuine New Yorkers immediately materialize. Among them are drug-addled Ruby and her Indian sidekick, True Shot; Fiona, the tenacious waitress who robustly trains Will at his new restaurant job; and "Shakespearean drag queen" and upstairs neighbor Rose, with whom he falls in love. But while dramatic temperaments and sequined wardrobes are being sorted out, AIDS, gay fiction's great leveler, has already begun claiming victims. Spanbauer's rapid-fire narration and clipped sentences generate a surprising amount of tension and gritty emotion, as does his vibrant, dead-on dialogue and keen sense of place. The high points come along the trajectory of Will's awakening sense of self, first when Rose drags him to his first Gay Pride parade and then, as years pass and the plague intensifies, when he witnesses the sudden death of friends. This is a big, brazen, histrionic work of fiction, one that pays respectable, if unsentimental, homage to a devastating period in gay history. However, the overstuffed plot crammed with a swirling pageant of madcap characters (even a dance-floor cameo by Elizabeth Taylor) and a brewing imbroglio concerning squatters rights may exhaust readers before the epic tome reaches maximum velocity.