"With the Beauty of Men comes Holleran's third novel, a brilliant, passionate, lyrical story of a man ashamed to be mourning the loss of his own youth as so many around him die young. Andrew Holleran follows Lark, the main character, on a series of trips to a Florida nursing home to care for his mother and on excursions to a local boat ramp, the gym, and the baths - all the while introducing a remarkable cast of characters both in the present and in Lark's memory of his life in Manhattan." "A universal tale of loneliness, aging, and the obsessive desires of the human heart, The Beauty of Men is both moving and full of dark humor, bleak but erotic."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The Beauty of Men is about Lark, a 47-year-old single gay man, who has moved to Florida to help care for his mother who became paralyzed after a fall.
At times he has to remind himself, She fell, I didn't. But it doesn't matter. She fell on him. All accidents on a certain scale, he noticed early on, sitting in the waiting rooms of intensive care units, affect not only the person who had the accident, they affect the person's family as well. "She'd be better off dead!" his cousin said the evening she visited his mother for the first time after the fall; he wanted to slap her, for saying precisely what they could not allow themselves to think. "Would you rather have died the night you fell?" he recently asked his mother. "Oh God, yes!" she said in a loud croak. So much for the twelve years. They were victims, all of them, of Technology--she'd been on her way out of Life, in a revolving door, and been caught when the door stopped--she'd been stepping into Charon's boat to cross the river Styx when she was pulled back, one foot in the boat, one foot on the bank. Death had been devouring her and dropped her to the floor, like a dog distracted by other prey, mangled and crippled and sore.
Ironically, his mother's injury allowed Lark to escape a world full of death. The novel is set in the mid-1980's when AIDS was ravishing a generation of gay men in New York City where Lark was living. Now, Lark lives alone, has few friends, but he can blame this on his move to rural Florida. Had he stayed in New York he would be just as alone for a different reason. Now, instead of going to clubs and bath houses, he goes to the boat ramp and the one local gay bar two towns over in Gainesville.
There are no happy campers in The Beauty of Men. Maybe one. Lark's friend Eddie who frequents the boat ramp almost daily without any illusions of romance. Eddie is older than Lark but he has none of Lark's maudlin attitude about age. He knows what he is, has accepted it, and goes through life with neither illusion nor self-pity. Lark on the other hand is obsessed with age. He has survived the AIDS epidemic only to find himself too old to be the gay man he wants to be anymore. The old become invisible, which is true in the straight world, too, but invisibility for older gays in the 1980's was compounded by a community that valued both youth and beauty as signs of good health. Lark is still interested; he just can't find anyone who reciprocates.
We are the same age, Lark and me. Knowing something of what he feels did not make me like The Beauty of Men more. Maybe the 1980's is not long enough ago. If the novel were set in the 1940's, I could have felt more for Lark. But so close to our own time, I lost patience with him early on and never really came around to his side. I can't say if the issues the book raises have been resolved or if we've just moved on to other things, but it all felt a bit old-hat to me.
So am I recommending the book? I can say this: It is so well written that I will be reading more of Andrew Holleran's novels. I've never read his classic Dancer from the Dance which is considered a seminal work in the LGBT Cannon. When I next see it on the shelf in a used bookstore somewhere, I'll buy it. In the end, The Beauty of Men is an excellent work.