The Beauty of Men ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
The lead character in Andrew Holleran’s 1996 novel, The Beauty of Men, is a forty-seven-year-old homosexual named Lark. He lives in New York, until “the plague” comes along and changes everything, taking the lives of many (most) of his friends. When his mother has a terrible accident that leaves her completely paralyzed, he “escapes” from New York and goes to live with her in a small Florida town. (He rationalizes later in the book that she “had the accident” to take him out of the New York world of men, to a place where he would be “safe.”)
In the bleak Florida town where Lark lives, he is mostly alone, except for the several hours a day he spends in the nursing home where his mother is confined. The rest of the time he is on his own to reminisce about the friends who have died, read, watch television, and reflect on his wasted, unfulfilling life. He believes he is in love with a thirty-four-year-old man named Becker, with whom he had one tense sexual encounter. The problem with Becker is he doesn’t seem to live Lark very much and isn’t interested in seeing him again. Becker has a lover with a handlebar mustache—don’t you know?—and a pubescent daughter he is trying to raise without a mother.
In his loneliness, Lark humiliates himself by frequenting gay bars and bathhouses, where he is like a ghost because his hair has turned white and he is so much older than the rest of the men there. He also turns up frequently at the “boat ramp,” an isolated, wooded area where men go to meet each other for quick, anonymous sex. (Going to the boat ramp is demeaning and dangerous.) He’s hoping to hook up with Becker once again but, of course, that isn’t going to happen.
The plot of The Beauty of Men shifts back and forth between Lark’s frustrating and disappointing life and the problems he has in dealing with his paralyzed mother. She wants to return home to die, but if Lark allows that he will lose whatever freedom he has. Does he find happiness and fulfillment at the end of the novel? Don’t count on it. It’s a dark, realistic excursion into one man’s unhappy life. There will be no Hollywood ending.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp