cover image Hard


Wayne Hoffman, . . Carroll & Graf, $14.95 (330pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-1660-9

Sexual politics—both public and private—play out against the cityscape of mid-1990s Manhattan in Hoffman's absorbing year-in-the-life of a group of gay men. Amid a citywide crackdown on public sex venues, the editors of two gay newspapers take opposing sides. One editor, Moe Pearlman—the 26-year-old grad-school dropout at the heart of the novel—is a founding member of the Alliance to Save Sex (get it?) who participates in civil disobedience more Candace Bushnell than Thoreau: with promiscuous oral sex, he "tak[es] a stand on his knees." The other editor, Frank DeSoto, remembers the AIDS epidemic of the '80s—when he lost his lover— and sees the crackdown as a matter of public health. Humanizing the story are the characters occupying the space between: aspiring photographer Kevin, who makes ends meet turning an occasional trick, endangering both himself and his lover, Aaron; and Gene, who must learn to give up his only fetish—control—when he's diagnosed with HIV. Though shallow characters initially stunt the narrative, the larger issues of sexual rights and AIDS add depth to their voices, making this sexually explicit debut novel an intriguing exploration of politics and psyche. (June)