The Heart's History
Lewis DeSimone
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Buy *The Heart's History* by Lewis DeSimone online

The Heart's History
Lewis DeSimone
Lethe Press
308 pages
May 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Although the characters in DeSimone’s novel are a bit precious, the real star of the tale is the author’s prose, as urbane and sophisticated as Henry James or Oscar Wilde's. Like no other contemporary American writer, DeSimone writes romantically about men and men with the grace and beauty of a Renaissance painting, and he can depict a personality or evoke a feeling in just a sentence or two.

No hardcore descriptions of man-on-man sex here. Instead, the author describes friendships strafed with love and loyalty, of thwarted affairs of the heart and choices not yet taken. Framing his story around the burgeoning same-sex marriage movement, DeSimone has Harlan, Kyle, and Edward arrive at their friend Bill’s house on Fire Island so that they can finally meet Robert, Edward’s new beau.

Ten years younger than Edward, with a pretty face and “a mean set of pecs,” Robert is a graduate student studying twentieth century gay history. Bill and the others are shocked that Edward has so quickly fallen head over heels in love with Robert. Covering up mistakes with memories and private jokes from a shared past, it feels natural for the group to openly exclude Robert as they surround Edward with a sheltering possessiveness, treating him as one of their own.

Through alternative points of view, DeSimone builds a protective layer around his characters. Each man is revealed to be tormented by obstacles and desires. Feeling troubled and indecisive, Edward visits Kyle. The revelation that Edward is HIV-positive adds the dramatic center to the story. There’s a sudden shiver and a hushed cry of guilt: “this whole thing is crazy making.” Kyle is not sure what Edward is more afraid of: death or love.

A dark shadow passes across the summer sun. Rebellious Harlan is adamant that he is not going to be dictated to by some bug. When Massachusetts legalizes same-sex nuptials, Greg and his conservative new beau, Victor, come across as pompously self-righteous in their marital bliss. Ironically, Greg blithely attempts to deny his promiscuous past. As we follow Greg and Victor’s progress up the altar, it’s clear that married life for all parties is still going to be circumspect at best.

A trip to sun-drenched Cancun symbolizes Harlan’s bored search for fulfillment while the ordinary dramas of life come to Boston’s wintry Tremont Street. Lovers pass though “in a blur of flesh and emotionless connections,” and the men must face painful realizations when confronted by the sudden awareness that they have no power to control Edward's failing health. Embarking on a tender exploration of midlife intimacy and existential angst, there’s a constant search for connection and chasing after dreams of yesterday.

While this is not a world I walk in (and none of the men come off as particularly warm-hearted or real, except perhaps Robert), I felt the story has a real sense of forgiveness and absolution that is in turn tied to an acceptance of life’s serious choices. DeSimone certainly succeeds in mapping out what it means to be a part of a close-knit group, joined together against the world and in support of each another.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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