A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITOR'S CHOICE PICK
"[Holleran's] new novel is all the more affecting and engaging because the images of isolation and old age here are haunted . . . in 1978 Holleran wrote the quintessential novel about gay abandon, the sheer, careless pleasure of it: Dancer From the Dance. Now, at almost 80 years of age, he has produced a novel remarkable for its integrity, for its readiness to embrace difficult truths and for its complex way of paying homage to the passing of time." —Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review
"It’s rare to find fiction that takes this kind of dying of the light as its subject and doesn’t make its heroes feel either pathetic or polished with a gleam of false dignity . . . This sad, beautiful book captures the sensations Holleran’s characters are chasing — as well as the darkness that inevitably comes for them, and us." —Mark Athitakis, The Los Angeles Times
One of the great appeals of Florida has always been the sense that the minute you get here you have permission to collapse.
The Kingdom of Sand is a poignant tale of desire and dread—Andrew Holleran’s first new book in sixteen years. The nameless narrator is a gay man who moved to Florida to look after his aging parents—during the height of the AIDS epidemic—and has found himself unable to leave after their deaths. With gallows humor, he chronicles the indignities of growing old in a small town.
At the heart of the novel is the story of his friendship with Earl, whom he met cruising at the local boat ramp. For the last twenty years, he has been visiting Earl to watch classic films together and critique the neighbors. Earl is the only person in town with whom he can truly be himself. Now Earl’s health is failing, and our increasingly misanthropic narrator must contend with the fact that once Earl dies, he will be completely alone. He distracts himself with sexual encounters at the video porn store and visits to Walgreens. All the while, he shares reflections on illness and death that are at once funny and heartbreaking.
Holleran’s first novel, Dancer from the Dance, is widely regarded as a classic work of gay literature. Reviewers have described his subsequent books as beautiful, exhilarating, seductive, haunting, and bold. The Kingdom of Sand displays all of Holleran’s considerable gifts; it’s an elegy to sex and a stunningly honest exploration of loneliness and the endless need for human connection, especially as we count down our days.
The geographical and emotional landscape of contemporary rural Florida is at the core of this majestic and wistful rumination on ageing, loneliness, and mortality from Holleran (Dancer from the Dance). The 60-something unnamed narrator strives to hold onto a long, lingering friendship with Earl, who's 20 years older, and reflects with bittersweetness on losses, past loves, and the indulgences of desire and lust. (His melancholy excursions include cruising a video arcade and a boat ramp in nearby Gainesville, places he's visited for the past couple of decades.) Earl is a retired accountant and widower, and their common interests books, music, "fine furniture," picking blueberries have bound them through the years as they remember friends of theirs who have died from AIDS and the narrator cared for his ailing parents. He thinks of their friendship as a "bucolic dream," the "perfect combination of solitude and companionship." The specter of death feels to the narrator "like a game of musical chairs... when the music stops you have to sit down wherever you are." Though the novel is permeated by a mournful depression, Holleran brings stylistic flourishes and mordant nostalgia to the proceedings, and fully develops the narrator, who floats elegantly on his distilled memories and eventually lands on a beautiful resolution. This vital work shows Holleran at the top of his game.