Plays Well with Others

Allan Gurganus, Author Knopf Publishing Group $25 (336p) ISBN 978-0-394-58914-5
La vie boheme in New York City in the 1980s is the setting of Gurganus's (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All) fierce, bleakly funny and resonant new novel. The twist here is that the narrator, Richard Hartley Mims Jr., and most of the other characters, are gay. In the heady years when it was chic to come out of the closet, a group of young, ambitious artists, musicians and writers descend on Manhattan from all parts of the country, possessed of talent, joie de vivre and the determination to succeed. They play the party scene, work at menial jobs to support themselves and enjoy the firm conviction that someday they will be famous. Initially, Hartley's discursive, episodic (perhaps semi-autobiographical) chronicle sometimes veers into self-absorbed prattle as he recalls his years growing up in conservative North Carolina, his fledgling efforts as a writer and his sexually charged friendship with the decade's most gorgeous man, genius composer Robert Gustafson, and with outrageous, androgynous artist Angie (aka ""Alabama"") Byrnes. These somewhat tedious asides are redeemed by hilarious scenes that verge on farce (30 dildoes fall out of a bag on the subway; two of Hartley's suitors meet in his closet and can't resist making love to each other). The specter of AIDs hovers over the novel, however, and gradually transforms the raunchy and pun-prone narrative into a wrenching threnody to lost youth and talent cut down. When the pandemic strikes and Hartley becomes a caretaker to his dying friends, Gurganus's gallows humor and innate compassion transform this material into a wrenching elegy for an innocent time when, to the gay community, artistic fulfillment, fame, love and happiness seemed just within reach. 100,000 first printing; Random House audio. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-375-70203-7
Other - 978-0-676-53195-4
Open Ebook - 286 pages - 978-0-307-76413-3
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-679-46055-8
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