Wesley Gibson has just moved into a New York City apartment with a new and unfamiliar roommate. The apartment boasts a plaid living room suite, tiny wizards made from crystals perched in groups on endtables… and an answering machine with sixty messages on it. Wesley’s imagination takes over and so begins the story of a not-quite-so-young gay man determined to make his way in a voracious New York City. This guy reads like David Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), only he doesn’t make me crazy when I track his train of thought. This logic I can follow, willingly.
The two official roommates, John and Alan, never materialize during the day, so Wesley depends upon his equally neurotic friend Jo Ann to stabilize his intermittent hysteria. At thirty-six, Gibson is an astute observer of humankind, starting with his own unnerving penchant for hypochondria. Living in an emotion vacuum, Wesley struggles to find a job, listening for the occasional roommate noise late at night. When Gibson does run across the primary roommate… well, that’s another story.
In moments of somber honesty, Wesley speaks of the homophobia of the south in the 70’s, where, like vampires, gays only come out at night and then in carefully proscribed areas. There is the charged radar of young men as their blooming sexuality pushes them into manhood, antennae set to identify those who are different. As for being gay in a straight world, “the simple act of walking down the street could be enough to instigate the day of your death.”
With the kind of shattering wit we only admit to with best friends, Gibson shares his intimate view of fragmented life in New York, scrambling for work and living with a roommate in denial. Naturally, New York is seductive, with great crowds of strangers, anonymity, the social niche of gay life and a chance to breathe. Most of all, this is a person who is remarkably generous, sharing his imperfections, perceptions and outrageous imagination.
When reading the blurbs on the cover of such a memoir, I find the comments interesting, if not entirely accurate. “Hilarious”, they say. “Laugh out loud funny.” Certainly, Gibson writes with an abundance of humor; but when grappling with the all too real life and death situation he addresses in the book, there is the necessary measure of gravitas for such an experience. His particular skill as an author is that he can crack jokes while the hypothetical boat sinks ever lower in the water, a testament to his alternately hopeful/despairing spirit and delightful personality.
Gibson’s view of the world is penetrating and precise. For every humorous anecdote, there is a moment of reflection, the unflinching glare of reality. This modern-day man lives his days intimately, with an uncanny ability to include the reader in each scene. In the rarified world of writers, Gibson may not be a macho John O’Hara, but he certainly speaks the language of humanity.