cover image The Men from the Boys

The Men from the Boys

William J. Mann. Dutton Books, $22.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94335-8

What begins as a novel look at gay life from Stonewall to Generation X ends as a New Age guidance novel along the lines of The Alchemist or The Celestine Prophecy. This said, Massachusetts journalist Mann is no Paulo Coelho or James Redfield, and his book lacks both the straightforward pragmatism and the easy occultism that make those authors bestsellers. At 32, Jeffrey O'Brien has reached a crisis in his seven-year relationship. As he tries to reconcile the casual sexual habits of his youth with the exigencies of long-term love and searches for meaning and balance, his friends and acquaintances seem less like characters than representatives of their generations, personified answers to Jeffrey's questions: there's his lover, a 60-ish watercolorist; his AIDS-afflicted 40-something ex-lover; and his 20-year-old crush. By the end of the novel, naturalistic dialogue has given way almost entirely to characters holding forth in expositions of various life lessons. As a guide to gay life in the 1990s, it should have been more direct; as a novel, it should have been considerably more artful. (June)