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Imagine the limpidity of Tennessee Williams' short stories wed to the outsider friendships of a Capote or McCullers novel. Imagine the story at hand is still about youth, sex, and love, and you've got this effortlessly readable novel. Its four parts report its narrator's most important summers in Charleston, South Carolina. During the first, he's 13, and, although he wants to join a circle of beautiful boys, he befriends Stevie, who's retarded, instead. During the second, he's 14, and the golden boys plot to humiliate him, but .20.20. "`One at a time,' I said, and they obeyed." He doesn't return until he's a grown gay man with a promiscuous youth behind him. He dabbles in Charleston gay life, discovers some of the boys of old in it, but then takes up with Stevie again, becoming his and his caretaker-sister's boon companion until the story's cataclysmic climax and cruel but tragically credible ending. A terrifically sad and lovely piece of work. ~--Ray Olson
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The magnolia and wisteria are practically palpable in this gay man's odyssey by the author of Why We Never Danced the Charleston. Stirring and sensitive in its language and emotional range, the first-person remembrance begins with the 13-year-old (unnamed) hero summering with his aunt and uncle near Charleston, S.C., on an island ``where everything was worn and comfortable as Saturday clothing.'' The lonely, overweight narrator finds pleasure and release in pictures of men in underwear ads in magazines, and soon forms a curious yet touching friendship with Stevie, a retarded boy. (Throughout the novel he clings to this relationship, which becomes his lifeline, much as the summer swimmers clutch their inner tubes.) As the the boy matures, he comes to terms with his sexuality and embarks on a series of geographical and amatory shifts. Drawn inexorably back to Charleston, he hears of AIDS (``the first stirrings of a storm in the trees'') as he dallies briefly with a furtive homosexual clique--``the scions of the city's best families.'' Dual tragedies bring the novel to a gentle, perhaps inevitable, resolution. Though there are minor faults here (abrupt plot turns, reliance on coincidence), they are easily overshadowed by richly textured prose that languidly evokes a Southern sensibility. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved