In 1969, high schoolers Jimmy, Frank, Craig, and Mason formed a garage band in Oakpine, Wyoming. In 1999, Jimmy, now a writer in New York, unable to afford the cost of his aids care, comes back to die. His dad won't let him in the house and his mom calls Craig to refit the garage into a spare room. At the same time, newly-divorced multimillionaire Mason comes back from his life as a good-guy lawyer in Denver, and, now pushing fifty, they reform the band. Jimmy is too sick to play but Craig's son takes his place. Old secrets, hurts, and girlfriends are revisited, and new relationships formed. The characters' core decency and quiet humor make Return to Oakpine [Kindle] ideal comfort food -- perfect for an easy read, say, if you are doped up on cold medicine or simply want to spend a couple hours with nice people. Longtime fans of Ron Carlson, and you should be one, will be disappointed that this book lacks the originality and verve that made Five Skies such a stunner or The Signal so compulsive.
Queer readers new to Carlson's work will also be disappointed. His saintly Jimmy is yet another example of a well-meaning straight writer who has zero feeling for the interior lives of gay men. Missing entirely are any sort of fear of being found out, any form of coming out to himself or friends or family, and any hint of a sexual impulsive at any point in his life. A gay New Yorker coming home to die in Wyoming in 1999 might dwell on Matthew Shepard who was murdered in Laramie in October 1998. Better drawn are the earnest, super-clumsy questions of his straight friends: "When two gay guys go out to dinner, who pays?"
Also a little earnest and clumsy is Salon's recent essay about the lack of high profile gay novels and the pitfalls of straight authors' attempts at queer lives, citing The Interestings, The Art of Fielding, and The Emperor's Children.
If you're keeping score, Viking degayed and de-aidsed the Oakpine flap copy.