cover image Like People in History: 9a Gay American Epic

Like People in History: 9a Gay American Epic

Felice Picano. Viking Books, $23.95 (528pp) ISBN 978-0-670-86047-0

Though Picano's latest may lack the significance implied by its subtitle, his memorable characters and wonderfully dishy dialogue evoke changing gay sensibilities with affecting measures of both tragedy and comedy. The novel opens in New York City, 1991, with literary maven Roger Sansarc, who narrates, and his current boyfriend attending a 45th-birthday celebration for Roger's flamboyant second cousin, Alistair Dodge. Alistair is suffering from AIDS, and Roger has brought the requested pills to hasten his demise. The action flashes back to 1954, when Roger and Alistair first meet, as fourth graders; subsequent sections alternate between the present--detailing Alistair's fate, as well as a heated ACT UP demonstration--and assorted professional and amatory episodes in the lives of the conservative Roger and his ever-outre relation. Comparisons with Ethan Mordden's similarly themed How Long Has This Been Going On? are inevitable: both books portray America's evolving gay culture during the past few decades. Picano's tale is the more traditional in style and structure, while Mordden brings greater scope and sweep to his freewheeling, in-your-face novel. Despite the dramatic events and requisite period references here (e.g., mentholated Kent cigarettes, Mary Renault's The Persian Boy), the historical perspective Picano brings seems somewhat forced. Nevertheless, his finely crafted prose makes these People consistently absorbing. (July)