"I'd craved his mystery then, willingly lived in his darkness, but mystery is fraught with danger because the truth just won't sit still…" says twenty-something Neal, who fresh from Boston glimpses the magnetic Zach across a crowded country-and-western bar in San Francisco.
There's nothing unexpected about that
- after all, the Bay City is rife with cute men - nor about the anticipated heart-stopping glances exchanged when Neal finds himself ultimately drawn to this charismatic and overtly sexual man who flashes him a knowing smile and is willing to flirt into the small hours of the morning.
So begins their tumultuous love story, one that Lewis DeSimone in his novel Chemistry fragments into kaleidoscopic parts, some vivid, some murky, some jagged, and all consecutively plummeting, changing and whirling. The two start an intense affair, the sexual sparks flying and the chemistry between them igniting in a maelstrom of heated desire.
Zach seems, on the surface, to have an enviable life defined by his independent and carefree existence, but there are troubles that dwell deep below the surface, sometimes not even observable to him. Despite his best efforts, Zach has spent much of his life carrying his past with him, from the horrors of an abusive father to the childhood of the ejected, where his mother eventually abandoned him.
The affair proceeds with a kind of operatic and adventuresome grandeur, even though it is pretty obvious from the outset that Neal and Zach share no common interests, only a brief history together involving people they know and places they've visited in the few short months they've been dating.
Neal is educated, knowledgeable about music, literature and art and with an appreciation for the finer things in life. Working-class Zach – an ex-Navy boy – tries desperately to hide and is even ashamed of his deeply twisted and warped roots. Neal sees this pain in Zach's eyes and in his desperation as he frantically holds Neal after lovemaking, deep into the middle of the night.
It doesn't take long for Zach's days to become increasingly dictated by sudden, irrevocable mood swings and by an unexplainable emotional torment so deep that it can only be momentarily obliterated. As Zach ensconces himself in his apartment, unable to rise from his bed or even go to work, Neal finds himself confronted by this sudden change in someone whom he thought was the man of his dreams.
The doctor prescribes some mood-enhancing medication, a lifeline in turbulent waters, but the effects are only short-term. Soon Zach's already brittle self-esteem becomes next to non-existent, and he ends up committing an act so dangerous that he sets off an irrevocable chain of events that tests the limits of their fragile commitment to each other.
Neal and Zach are puzzles to themselves and to each other, and navigating these treacherous waters of depression is often painful, absurd, even uncertain. This is the dark night of any marital relationship – gay or straight - that struggles to identify itself, reaching toward daylight as both Zach and Neal seek to redefine themselves and their distorted boundaries of love.
For both these men, the images from life end up becoming confused; the present,
the past and the imagination are all blended into the darkness of the moment. Chemistry is a daringly intimate, risky,
very sexual tale that not only tread the dark waters and the terrible ramifications of coping with clinical depression, but also speaks volumes about the untamed passion that can lie
in the hearts of two men.
As Zach's flesh presses against Neal, "the moans that sang into my ear…" their bonding does indeed ignite a type of chemical reaction, their painful journey the ultimate result of two wayward elements coming together and enigmatically bonding to create something so new that its power ends up blindsiding them both.