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[621] Man About Town – Mark Merlis

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” Until that instant, he truly had not comprehended that his predicament was a shameful one. Why? No one ever called a gay man cuckold: infidelity was the norm, it was no reflection on you if your lover occasionally partook of strange meat. ” (Ch.3, p.78)

I like who and what Man About Town is about: Joel Lingeman, a middle-aged civil servant specializing in health care issues who has just been abandoned by his longtime partner for 15 years, searches for a bathing suit model about whose image in a magazine Joel fantasized as a youth.

Most of the novel is meditation on self-pity, and the sublime realization that everything Joel had taken for granted is now gone. He is back in the dating scene, or, more like the cruising ground of a bar. He reflects that “he had simply been unavailable for many years, and now he was available, like an out-of-print book that has been reissued.” (Ch.3, p.81) The unexpected hole in life prompts his search for some 1964-edition of an Esquire-like magazine that contains a swimsuit as that obsessed him throughout his youth.

There had to be a reason, some pathology. It couldn’t be that happy and well-adjusted straight people were just plain bewildered by Joel Lingeman,bewildered and disgusted. To admit that would be to say that he was still bewildered and disgusted by himself. (Ch.5, p.177)

While Joel ruminates and reminisces about his mistakes and tries dating again, the book also veers off to explore the political life in the bureaucracy surrounding the Congress. The most interesting subplot involves the progress of a homophobic amendment to a Medicare bill. Then there is the “young kid” for whom his lover leaves him. These two promising stereotypes resolve anticlimactically and then just disappear. The pursuit of the swimsuit midel, which seems the least feasible, moves on but ultimately doesn’t get anywhere.

Man About Town shines in its ideas but not the story. It’s an intelligent musing on age, monogamy, race, and being gay. It’s obviously a book with a bag of ideas relevant to being a gay man in changing times. It raises such contemporary issues on both a political and personal level. The book seems to hinge on a parody of the heroic quest, one of an older gay man who is entranced and puzzled by the ways of youth, and preeminently one’s own youth and how quickly t evaporates. He’s settled for a conservative life but tickled by his long-dormant desires. The book falls apart nearing the end and the resolution painfully falls short of my expectation.

360 pp. Harper Collins. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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