Now in his early thirties and permanently ensconced in Provincetown, Henry Weiner helps his best friends, novelist Jeff O'Brien and hotelier Lloyd Griffith, manage Nirvana, their comfy guesthouse. Lately, however, Henry has been suffering from a midlife malaise, having all but lost hope that he will ever find the long sought after Mr. Right.
In Henry's world, true love, or the way Henry romanticizes love, seems to be an illusory force, and he spends much of his time pondering whether it exists or not as he comes to the realization that maybe it’s about two people finding each other and just making the best of it. Intent to lose himself sitting at home and eating buckets of ice cream while watching late-night reruns of tacky
Seventies television shows, his life seems put on hold as he waits in vain for that special man to come along.
One afternoon at a tea dance, however, into Henry's world marches Luke, a twenty-something wraith-like hunk and cunning would-be novelist who has abs of steel and a body to die for. Once one of the beautiful boys and also one of the circuit party A-listers, Henry can't quite believe his luck that a hot young stud such as Luke would now be interested in him with his crow's feet, receding hairline, and recently developed love handles.
Ignoring his apparent failings, Luke attends to Henry with a sympathetic eye, intent to label Henry a "stud muffin" and curiously intrigued by the fact that Henry works for the renowned Jeff O'Brien. But after a night of hot and sweaty sex, Henry disappointingly figures out that Luke is in fact a fan of Jeff's and is scheming to get an invitation to meet Jeff. The whole affair is probably nothing more than transparent ploy to curry Henry's favor so that Luke can end up in Jeff's bed.
Luke is probably just like all the other boys who have paraded throughout Henry's life, right back to Lloyd, who once looked Henry in the eye and told him he could never love anyone the way he loves Jeff. "Will I never have a boyfriend?" Henry whines to all and sundry, the thought constantly circulating around in his mind, contributing
to the terrifying realization that he may be one of these people who are destined never to find a lover.
As time keeps ticking and Henry becomes conscious of the fact that he's still alone, he keeps comes back to grieving his former lovers
- Joey, Daniel, even Lloyd - always comparing them to the mythical figure of "Jack," this idealized mythical lover who comes into his arms late at night.
Henry is not lacking in potential suitors: apart from the very hot Luke, there's Gale, a hunky gym colleague who challenges Henry's attitudes
about what he wants out of a lover, and the mature, well-muscled Evan, who is definitely Henry's type but holds a dark secret
- not to forget the forty-five, impossibly old Martin, a carpenter with a "beefy frame and close-cropped beard" who, fresh from his life in Pennsylvania, confesses his
own midlife crisis to the unforgiving Henry.
A distinctly unsympathetic character, Henry is as vapid and phony as many of these aging circuit party boys who for some strange reason jump to the ridiculous conclusion that they can't cut it in the scene anymore. Henry still displays no qualms when it comes to chasing after muscular men, even when almost all of them, for various nebulous reasons, never measure up to his high-minded ideals.
This novel perpetuates this ridiculous notion that sometime around the age of thirty, crow's feet and receding hairlines spell the end of "the party season" for gay men. Apparently aging is a terrible force that
must be accepted without further struggle, the inevitable entry into the "shoulder season" of gay life where when "you get old, tired, and fat," you are no longer marketable.
This novel reeks of self-pity, its titular hero portrayed mostly as a whining, precocious idiot. His constant waxing poetic over meeting the perfect man and his 314 pages of mostly self-indulgent moaning is habitually interminable. One just feels like screaming at him to get out there and do something useful, like fight for federal recognition of gay rights or even protest against the war in Iraq.
William J. Mann is a talented author, and I have long admired his work – both his fiction and his nonfiction
- but Men Who Love Men is a huge disappointment. The narrative comes across as sophomoric
, as though it's been cobbled together at a moment's notice. The novel ultimately feels like a deliberate attempt to masquerade as a serious work of fiction when it's all rather tawdry and superficial, reading more like a facile and senseless gay beach book.