Brendan Lemon, Author . Alyson $24.95 (237p) ISBN 978-1-55583-645-0

Out magazine editor-in-chief Lemon makes his fiction debut with a poignant love story set in mid-1980s Cuba. The novel takes the form of a long letter to a young Cuban man from an American on death row in a Cuban prison, written on the eve of his execution. In his sprawling, evocative missive, John Webster relives much of his relationship with boxer Eduardo Garcia, which begins when he catches Eduardo's eye on the streets of Manhattan. Three days of hot and heavy romance ensue (including a steamy night at the Metropolitan Opera) and end with Eduardo's return to Cuba and a promise from John to visit. He does, accompanying a left-wing political group whose members volunteer in the Cuban sugarcane fields. But John soon abandons his comrades to reunite with Eduardo in Havana. An afternoon of frolicking in Coppelia Park ends abruptly when Eduardo confronts a young Cuban thief and ends up beating him to death. In shock, John and Eduardo both flee, but the police quickly apprehend them. A court case rife with homophobia and betrayal determines their separate fates. The book's conceit of a protracted confessional love letter interspersed with atmospheric prison scenes grows wearisome and often feels forced. Yet the lovers' relationship is moving without being saccharine, and Lemon's graceful prose and taut pacing compensate somewhat for the story's creaky foundation. (Apr.)

Forecast:Readers of the New Yorker may recognize Lemon as the magazine's former cultural editor, and a national advertising campaign in alternative publications as well as enthusiastic blurbs from Michael Cunningham and Edmund White should boost this title's sales.

Reviewed on: 03/25/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
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