Mark Merlis, Author . HarperCollins/Fourth Estate $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-00-715611-5

Joel Lingeman, the protagonist of the third novel by Washington insider–cum–novelist Merlis (American Studies), is, at 45, a man in full, with a high-profile job as a health policy adviser to Congress, a long-term lover and a tightly knit circle of like-minded friends. Still, he is unable to avoid the eternal question of "what if?" His mind wanders off medicare and HMOs, drifting back to his high school years, yearning for another chance to correct his juvenile mistakes, to chart a different course in life. Change, however, is thrust upon him when Sam, his lover of 15 years, leaves him for a younger man. Lingeman's world implodes, and he is thrown back into the scene of Washington's gay bars, seeking reaffirmation and companionship. His sudden change of status propels him into an obsession with one of his boyhood fantasies, a model in an ad he saw in a magazine as a child. Lingeman is so engrossed by this ephemeral man that he misses a more obvious and tangible potential lover. Cleverly, Lingeman's career echoes his romantic life, as he finds himself disgusted with the opportunism and cynicism of Washington politics. Merlis's staccato style, stinging and insightful, puts the reader inside Lingeman's head as he treads the fine line between fantasy and reality, between the superficial and the meaningful. Merlis is able to move from describing a certain assistant's dress as one "an organ grinder might have chosen for his monkey" to the deepest contemplations of commitment, couplehood and the importance of candor. He creates a protagonist with broad appeal, proving beyond doubt that the personal is political and vice versa. (May 1)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-06-204155-5
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-312-20934-6
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-00-715612-2
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-00-715083-0
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