East Village bookstore worker Ralph Eckhart, a vague, progressive fellow with a few powerful friends, a prominent gay activist and a senator's chief speechwriter among them, is gliding happily through life when he agrees to meet someone from an Internet chatroom and finds his core beliefs challenged. The date, Washington-based Bill O'Connor, is a good kisser, but he's also a rising Republican star, a right-wing journalist with a book trashing Hillary about to come out. Strange bedfellows indeed, Ralph and Bill hit it off, even going together to a Christian Coalition conference on the family where Bill is the featured speaker. But when Ralph discovers that his lover's book also accuses a lesbian speechwriter, his best friend, of an affair with her boss, he indignantly ends the relationship. Unfortunately, Bill is murdered soon after their breakup, and Ralph is jailed as the prime suspect. His activist friend Nick jumps to his defense, making his a cause célèbre exemplifying knee-jerk homophobia, but as the media machine cranks up in his favor, Ralph is shaken to discover that Nick is in fact also an FBI informer, and the one who turned him in. Freed before the case comes to trial, Ralph then unwittingly stumbles on the trail of the real murderer and has to face the consequences.
It's hard to bring this sort of story off with such a low-key protagonist, and the plot has more than a few idle moments. But ultimately this is a closely wrought psychological portrait of both a decent man and the sharply divided gay world he inhabits. In hindsight, the story seems at least as subtle as it is slow.