Filler content with gay men

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #31:-

THE ROSE CITY
David Ebershoff
Phoenix pb, 220pp, £6.99

Set in Boston and California, this collection of seven stories takes a penetrating look at the lives of gay men. The eponymous hero ‘Chuck Paa’ makes his living by caring for men dying of AIDS, second hand compassion a substitute for his own emotional vacuity.

In ‘The Dress’ a ten year old boy and his father are estranged by the former’s discovery of the joys of dressing up in women’s clothing, while a hustler on the make has his eyes opened by a woman in peril when coerced into helping her search for ‘The Charm Bracelet’. ‘Living Together’ has two gay men setting up as flatmates, a situation fraught with complications and uncertainty.

In ‘Regime’ a young boy becomes obsessed with dieting in the hope of making himself more attractive to his peers. ‘The Rose City’ is the story of Roland Dott, forever chasing after the perfect man, never realising how time is passing him by or that he has become the victim of his own sad delusions.

Finally there’s the best of the bunch, the poignant and painful ‘Trespass’, in which a young boy, wishing to explore his own sexuality, tries to make contact with the life of a gay man by breaking into his house while he’s away, and the tragic consequences of that act.

These are moving stories, heartfelt and touching, full of surprises and minutely detailed emotions, written from a gay perspective certainly, but with a universality regarding the lies we tell to ourselves and each other, the need to be wanted that consumes us all, and the fear of being found out for who we really are.

Ebershoff’s work is given the stamp of emotional authenticity by his fine eye for subtle nuances of character, not only dialogue but the often far more important things that go unsaid. None of the people he writes about are happy with their lives, and in that sense it made me think of a white collar version of Last Exit to Brooklyn. The overwhelming impression left in the mind is that, 35 years on from Selby’s ground-breaking work, the gay man who is at peace with himself and content with his life remains an unattainable goal, like the exemplar in the story ‘Trespass’, an iconic figure who is spoken of but never actually seen. Of course one should be wary of granting too much significance to such a subtext, as content people, gay or otherwise, are seldom the concern of fiction writers.

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