Photographer/illustrator Danny Fortunato has just turned forty-one. Once a glamorous West Hollywood go-go dancer, Danny has moved to Palm Springs, where he now lives a relatively quiet life with Frank, his partner of twenty years. Danny has worked hard to erase the boy he left behind in East Hartford, Connecticut, and the tattered and terrible memories of his family
- particularly of the fanatical ravings of his mother, Peggy, and the strange disappearance of his sister Becky,
who vanished one night when she was a teenager.
That was the night when everything in Danny’s world changed, the night he came to understand that he would never grow up to be the man he had expected to be. Still, a staid life in Palm Springs with Frank does little to stop Danny, who quivers with unfocused energy as he battles the forces of a mid-life crisis that seem to be beyond his control.
All of this changes on Danny’s birthday. Drinking one night with his best friend, Randall, Danny lays eyes on Kelly, a sexy twenty-something bartender. Kelly moves with a determined concentration, his hair black, his cheeks covered with carefully clipped dark whiskers. Hoping for a chance to speak to him and peer into his eyes, Danny can no longer deny how hungry he really is.
An impoverished artist, Kelly seems at first to be the personification of innocent youth.
To be sure, Danny is on fire for him to take his staid, stale routine and turn it around. Ostensibly meeting to look at Kelly’s sketches, the two embark on a sizzling affair, meeting for dinner then naughtily snorting lines of coke while Danny just aches to have hot, passionate sex with him. Kelly’s face “stops Danny’s breath” as Danny begins to realize that he wants to change Kelly’s life and jumpstart his future for him.
From his childhood in East Harvard to the present, William J. Mann covers Danny in every manifestation, fully embedding us in his life: his days in West Hollywood at the height of the AIDS crisis, where he meets Frank, then his childhood in East Hartford
battling his mother, who increasingly wraps herself in extravagant solitude while operating on the belief that Becky’s return is imminent.
Although Mann portrays an array of believable and multi-faceted characters
who complement Danny’s life in both the present and the past, I’m not sure I like Danny’s world. From his kindhearted friends to the phony Palm Springs society elite, who seem content to bleed the like of Danny and his ilk, there’s a pretentious disconnect with much of what goes on.
Basically about a man who comes full circle and now “stands on the other side of the divide,” this novel mostly skirts the edges of tacky gay melodrama. Still, the author is adept at building a narrative
that hums with passion and desire. The months in West Hollywood harden and embolden Danny, along with the painful revelations of his childhood in East Hartford
that continue to haunt him. It is Kelly who ultimately challenges Danny in a way that causes him to question his life with Frank, his personal priorities, and his unquestioning acceptance of the steps that have bought him to this time and this place.