cover image What Love Means to You People

What Love Means to You People

NancyKay Shapiro, . . St. Martin's, $23.95 (376pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34789-5

With painstakingly detailed, passionate sex scenes balanced by plenty of insight into its characters' anguished inner lives, Shapiro's debut novel dramatically captures love's roulette of emotions: the electricity of possibility, the pull of youth, the weight of loss. Shapiro depicts the fraught relationship between two New York City men: 42-year-old ad exec Jim Glaser and 23-year-old pretty-boy and aspiring artist Seth McKenna. Pulled together by empathy and animal attraction, Jim and Seth must also navigate undercurrents of pain: Jim still mourns the death of his long-term partner, Zak, and Seth conceals a troubled smalltown Nebraska background that includes a fundamentalist Christian mother, an abusive stepfather and a horrifying teenage experience that has left him emotionally crippled. Afraid of Jim's pity, Seth paints a much cheerier picture of his upbringing, and when his younger sister, Cassie, suddenly shows up in New York, Seth is terrified she will reveal their history. Bitter that Seth escaped Nebraska and she didn't until now, Cassie also struggles with but quickly accepts his homosexuality. Fate temporarily calls Seth back to Nebraska, and he and Jim hit a painful low before Shapiro delivers a reassuring if improbable happy ending. (Mar.)