Fruit Cocktail
Arthur Wooten
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Buy *Fruit Cocktail* by Arthur Wooten online

Fruit Cocktail
Arthur Wooten
Alyson Books
238 pages
December 2007
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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This sequel to On Picking Fruit offers up another whimsical and sly adventure from author Arthur Wooten as he charts Curtis Jenkins' course through the perils of the gay dating scene. A New York story, the novel is a delicious mixture of dates gone wrong, dates from hell, and dates that are mired in the impossibly absurd.

One wouldn't think that Curtis's new book, "101 Ways to Collide Into Your Gay Soul Mate," would be an instant hit, but the forty-something suddenly finds that he's been swept up in a flurry of book signings and promotional appearances. His mother, recently bisexual, is totally overjoyed at the attention her precious son has been receiving, even as she sets him up with a "hot date" on the eve of one of his first book signings.

Following him around like a devoted dog is his best friend, Quinn, returning to Manhattan full time after an unfortunate incident in Los Angeles where his own producer mistook him for a messenger boy. Poor Quinn; he seems to always be making life harder for Curtis. It's as if he's more intent to promote the damage he's wrought rather than assisting Curtis in fulfilling his literary dreams. Still, best friends they are and remain so through thick and thin.

Slowly shedding the paraphernalia of urban life like a molting snake, Curtis endeavors to promote his book as he embarks on various dates. Each chapter emphasizes one more hilarious (or tragic) encounter, which adds another layer to the jigsaw puzzle of eccentric personalities: Timber, a surly, squaredancing Native American and a descendent of the Klickitat tribe, and Tripp, the beautiful Scottish blonde with violet-blue eyes and classic good looks, considered to be the best Swedish masseur in town.

The escapades come thick and fast. There's an encounter with the Washington Squares Squaredancers, which feels to Curtis like "gay bumper cars," Gay Nude Yoga classes, where sweaty Curtis finds himself against a wall of young thirty-something hunks, and a trip to Provincetown for a book signing with an accompanying drag party.

In the meantime, Curtis tries desperately to switch to a less obsessive mode, wishing on the rune of fulfillment where ambition is satisfied, love is fulfilled, and where rewards are hopefully received. Meanwhile, his sixty-five-year-old mother prances around like Ann-Margret and endeavors to set her son up with the perfect man, even as Curtis befriends Petra, the sister of the late, great Magda Tunick, so important in the previous book.

As the novel winds towards its conclusion, Curtis's insecurities become ever more apparent. He can't seem to find the perfect mate, is desperate to promote his book, and even realizes that he and Quinn are probably just like "two peas in a pod" - perhaps even tarred by the same dating brush.

As a reader, I wish Wooten would be a little more disciplined with his prose; at times the narration meanders, and the story sometimes seems a bit idle. Still, the author has a real handle for describing the absurdities of contemporary gay life, the story always peppered with irreverent and cheeky humor, part of the fun coming from Curtis as he treats his dates with witty disdain.

As with Forbidden Fruit, the set-up of Fruit Cocktail is patently contrived. Most of the action is silly and farcical, and in the end, the novel mostly comes across as almost fanciful and surreal. To his credit, however, Wooten makes it all seem well worth the effort, the laughs always coming thick and fast, something quite rare in contemporary gay fiction.

The strength of this novel is Wooten's spot-on depiction of Curtis' struggle to find the right man as he moves from one bad date to another. Rather than gently nudging everyday life into the realm of fluffy absurdity, Wooten surprises us by knocking reality upside the head, revealing Curtis' gentle and self-deprecating nature, which really gives you the feeling of wanting to spend more and more time with him, this truly seasoned and ripened fruit.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2008

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