In Mann's ambitious if uneven latest (after Men Who Love Men), a spiritually unfulfilled man still haunted by his sister's disappearance decades ago gets a shot at a fresh start. Former West Hollywood go-go boy Danny Fortunato has settled into a comfortable life with his husband in Palm Springs. But when Danny turns 41, he feels the thrill's faded from his relationship and he still grieves over what happened when he was 14: one morning, Danny spied his sister, Becky, cavorting with her boyfriend. Later that day, she vanished, but Danny never told the police or his parents what he'd seen. In the aftermath, his family fractures. Now, after Danny meets Kelly, a gorgeous young bartender, he begins to believe Kelly might hold clues to Becky's disappearance, but digging into that history means facing his family and his tortured past. Mann's vivid style is a treat, and though the contemporary story line flirts with romantic overkill, the flashbacks dealing with Becky's disappearance are particularly well done and could almost stand on their own. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Object of Desireby William J. Mann
"It's always been golden for you, Danny. You've always been the golden boy."
Danny Fortunato seemed to have it all. He was cute, funny, sexy, smartthe hottest go-go boy in West Hollywood. When he danced on stage, all eyes were upon him and all men desired him. But something always kept Danny from ever really believing he was the golden boy that others said
"It's always been golden for you, Danny. You've always been the golden boy."
Danny Fortunato seemed to have it all. He was cute, funny, sexy, smartthe hottest go-go boy in West Hollywood. When he danced on stage, all eyes were upon him and all men desired him. But something always kept Danny from ever really believing he was the golden boy that others said he was. . .
Twenty years later, living in Palm Springs, Danny is celebrating his 41st birthdayalthough "celebrating" might not be the right word for how he feels about his life today. To the outside world, he's still golden: he still has his looks, and he still loves Frank, his boyfriend of nearly two decades. But something is missing in his life. Passion. Romance. Adventure. The same something that's been missing ever since that day when he turned fourteen, when his sister Becky disappeared and his whole world flipped upside-down. . .
Filled with unforgettable warmth, incorrigible humor, and irresistible charm, Object of Desire takes readers through three milestone eras in one man's lifehis youth in the 1970s, his days of abandon in the 1980s, and his more sober, reflective existence todayand reaffirms William J. Mann's reputation as one of gay fiction's major narrative powers.
"Mann's vivid style is a treat."
"Mann's writing is smart, aware and cognizant enough to take a well-practiced theme and give it a shot in the arm." Instinct
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OBJECT OF DESIRE
By WILLIAM J. MANN
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2009 William J. Mann
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA
The first time I saw him, he was nothing more than a face and a pair of hands. Not once did his eyes meet mine. Even as he took my order, his chin was already lifting to greet the man behind me. The first time I saw him, he did not see me.
It was a green night. The mountains were gray and the sand blowing in from the desert was yellow, but the night itself was so green, it was almost emerald. A mirage, I knew. A trick of the setting sun. On a green night, nothing was what it seemed.
"Do you know who he is?" I asked my friend Randall, my eyes fixed on the bartender.
Randall shook his head. "Never seen him before."
With much reluctance did I turn my eyes away to focus on my friend. A green cast was coloring his face as the last slanting rays of the sun reflected against the mountains. Night was rushing in to fill up every corner of the bar's outdoor deck, and the busboys were busy lighting the lanterns that hung over our heads. Little flames leapt and hopped as if they were living, breathing creatures, and I was reminded, yet again, of the night my sister disappeared twenty-seven yearsbefore, the night when everything in my world changed, the night I came to understand that I would never grow up to be the man I had expected to be.
"He is beautiful, Randall," I said, with conviction. "Absolutely beautiful."
"Danny," my friend replied, "I did not come out with you tonight to moon over beautiful bartenders." He glowered at me, his face pinched and unhappy, as if he'd just bitten into a lemon.
I gave him a small smile. "I'm sorry," I said. "I know you want to talk about Ike. Go ahead. I'm listening."
He looked aghast. "I do not want to talk about Ike."
"Okay, then, let's not talk about him."
Randall huffed. "Why would I drive all the way out here to the desert if I wanted to ruin your birthday by talking about Ike?"
I managed a small smile. "It wouldn't ruin my birthday, Randall."
He pouted. "Of course, it would. It ruined my entire life." He raised his martini to me. "Happy birthday, Danny."
I raised mine to him. "Thank you, Randall."
My birthday. Ever since my teens, the day had felt awkward and peculiar, even inappropriate, fraught with memories tattered and terrible but sometimes freakishly funny as well. After the age of fourteen-the age I turned on the day my sister disappeared-all birthday parties ceased in my house. I never blamed my parents for it. I never thought it unfair. Not until I was twenty did I have another birthday party-given to me, in fact, by Randall, soon after I'd arrived in California. It felt odd, all that singing and merrymaking, not to mention the sex that went on after the party. I felt as if I was being unfaithful-not to my sister, not to my parents, but to me, to the boy I'd left behind in Connecticut. The boy who had done everything he could but still had ultimately failed.
"Talk to me," I said to Randall. "Talk to me about Ike."
He frowned. "It's your birthday, Danny. We're out to have fun tonight. It's not often you and I get a chance to go out on our own. Usually, there's Frank with us and-"
"And Ike," I finished.
"And Ike." Randall let out a long, dramatic sigh. "Oh, alack and alas. Our happy little foursome is no more."
We were never a happy little foursome, but I didn't say that to Randall. Neither Frank nor I had ever cared all that much for Ike. I didn't say that, either. What I did do was glance back at the bar. I couldn't see the bartender anymore. It was too dark now. Besides, too many men had crowded around his station.
"Did I tell you he wants to take the dog?" Randall asked.
I returned my eyes to Randall's face. "You never liked that dog."
"Still, we got it together. I paid for its shots."
"Now you're being petty, Randall."
"Well, what's wrong with being petty? He's the one who fell in love with someone else. Someone younger, someone more attractive. Now that's being petty."
No, not petty. Cruel. Heartless. Inconvenient. Honest. All those things, maybe, but not petty. Yet none of it did I say to Randall.
Instead, I looked again for the bartender and spotted his face emerging for a moment from the crowd. "How can you say he's not beautiful?" I asked despite myself.
Randall snorted. "Please. They're a dime a dozen, those bartenders. He probably has a crystal meth habit." He took another sip of his martini. "Well, what are you doing standing here if he fascinates you so much? Aren't you going to introduce yourself?"
Randall leaned in for the kill. "Make sure you tell him you're married. You know how pissed these boys get when you fail to mention that little detail."
Instinctively, my thumb moved inside my palm to feel the titanium band around my left ring finger. Married. Yes, I supposed I was, even if California had yet to consider what Frank and I had done in Canada legal. But what did "married" mean, anyway-especially here, on this green night in the middle of the desert? What did it mean after twenty years-the last four of which had been a string of silent nights, the only sound the tapping of our computer keys, our faces bathed in the blue light of our monitors, each of us waiting for the other to call it a night so that the last one of us awake might be free to jack off, to find some fleeting, puny satisfaction with the boys of online porn?
I looked back over at the bar. All I could see was the top of his head. His thick, dark hair, the sharply cut sideburns. How very much I wanted to see his eyes.
"I know what you're thinking," Randall said. "I should have de- fined my relationship with Ike the way you've defined yours with Frank. You can't lose someone if that's simply not part of the playbook. That's why you and Frank have held on all these years, despite all the boys who've come between you." He knocked back the last of his martini. "How very nice for you."
I smiled, eyes still averted. "Bitter doesn't become you, Randall."
"I'm not bitter."
That was debatable. Randall had always had big dreams, though they weren't anything like my big dreams. My dreams had always been about success; Randall's were about contentment. Once, just starting out in med school, he'd imagined he'd be a great surgeon; he'd ended up as a kids' orthodontist in Century City. Once, when we were young, he'd dreamed of finding a husband with whom he'd grow old. But the only thing that had happened was that Randall himself had grown old.
"I could never have been like you and Frank," he was saying, shaking his head, as if he were reading my mind. "I could never have let Ike sleep around."
I shrugged and finished my vodka.
Once, I had been in love with Randall. We had both been twenty years old-slightly more than half our current ages. We'd been living in West Hollywood, in those exciting months when it first broke away from Los Angeles to become its own city-the first gay city in the world, we liked to say. It was difficult for me to remember the way Randall had looked back then. The eyes were the same, round like buttons and as blue as an August sky. But the glorious black hair had receded over the passing years, and the belly, once trim, had grown thick. I tried to picture him as he was, but I couldn't.
Not that it surprised me. So little of my months in California before Frank remained in my memory. All I could remember now with any real clarity were the Big Weenie hot-dog stands (BIG WEENIES TASTE BETTER) and the NO FAGS sign posted at Barney's Beanery. And the clubs. I remembered more about the clubs than anything else: the smell of piss and beer, the silver strobe lights, the music (Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, Yes). I think my strongest memory of those days was doing lines of coke behind the bar as "Owner of a Lonely Heart" played on the sound system.
But not much else remained in my brain from the time before Frank. I'd been a scared, insecure kid just off the bus. I'd lived with Randall in an apartment near Fairfax. I remembered a claw-foot bathtub, a ratty old couch, VHS tapes stacked against the wall almost to the ceiling. There'd been sex, a lot of sex, even though the plague was all around us then: sex with Randall, sex with Edgar, sex with Benny, sex with tons of others, usually on my waterbed, which one time sprang a leak.
But what could never fade from my memory of that time was the ambition, so tightly wound up inside me that it sometimes woke me in the middle of the night, bolting me upright, my hands clenched at my sides, causing me to scream out loud, waking the neighbors. I had traveled all the way across the country on a Peter Pan bus in order to be someone. I had failed back home, failed miserably, and so I had come west, like so many had before me. To be someone. And so I did-I became someone on top of a box in a club on Santa Monica Boulevard, wearing a pair of cowboy boots and a yellow thong, twisting my ass to Boy George and "Karma Chameleon."
Oh, yes. A very long time ago.
On nights that were never green.
"I thought it would be me who found the lasting relationship," Randall was saying, his voice low, his words beginning to slur from the vodka. "I thought it would be me who ended up living happily ever after-not you, Danny. You were always so flighty. Always moving from one boy to the next."
I lowered my gaze at him. "You'll find someone, Randall. You'll forget Ike, and you'll fall in love again. With someone who is worthy of you this time. Ike never was."
This mellowed him a bit. "I'm just not sure how many more times I can go through it." He looked so sad standing there. So sad and so old. "Falling in love is hell," he said.
"You're crazy. Everyone wants to be in love."
"Oh, sure, in the beginning." Randall drew up his chin and looked defiantly at me with his blue eyes. "It's great to be in love in the beginning-when you're giddy and lovesick, and you think about the person all the time, and he thinks about you. You call each other nine, ten times a day. You wish you could be together all the time. You start to miss him even before you say good night. It's the most thrilling feeling in the world, being in love." He paused for dramatic effect. "In the beginning."
I laughed. "What you need is to get laid tonight."
Randall scowled. "Oh, let's just get out of here and have some dinner."
"I'm not hungry," I lied.
"Well, we've got to eat."
Randall was looking past me, into the crowd. I followed his gaze. A slim, blond young man in blue jeans and a vintage Atari T-shirt.
"He's cute," I said.
Randall's scowl only deepened. "Well, then it's your lucky night, Danny, because he's been looking at you ever since we got here."
"How do you know that? Maybe he's been looking at you."
Randall narrowed his eyes at me. "No, Danny. Let me give you a visual. Me, chubby and balding. You, muscles and a full head of hair. Need I say more?"
"You're too hard on yourself, Randall."
"He's just a kid, anyway," he said, shrugging. "Why would he look at old men like us?"
I laughed. "You forget that in Palm Springs, even turning forty-one still qualifies us as chicken." I gestured with my drink. "Look around you."
The place was, as usual, packed with fifty- to seventy-somethings. Distinguished-looking men mostly, men who had once been handsome, men who even now retained some awareness of how they should look, even if they were largely held together by buttons and cinched belts and oversize Tommy Bahama floral-print shirts. A noticeable few displayed the plumped lips and shiny foreheads of cosmetic surgery. But the ones who stood out most were the heirs of Liberace, scattered randomly throughout the crowd, wearing red velvet blazers and too much sweet cologne.
"Go ahead," I urged Randall. "Go make a move on blondie over there."
"Oh, please. He wants you, Danny. Don't you want a birthday fuck?"
I leveled my eyes at him. "For your information, I had already planned on going home to Frank tonight."
"Oh, really? And will there be a trick waiting to sleep between you?"
"Tonight, my friend," I told him, "it will be you who goes home with the trick."
I took hold of Randall's arm and tugged. I owed him this one.
"What are you doing?" he asked, big-eyed.
"Come with me."
I led him across the deck. The curly blond in the Atari T-shirt noticed our approach but continued talking with two older men, pretending he hadn't.
"Hello," I said to the group. "I hate to interrupt...."
"Well, we've been hoping you might do just that all night," said one of the older men. "Or at least, he has."
The man's eyes twinkled. He wore a black double-breasted blazer with a pink silk pocket puff. I assumed the "he" being referenced was blondie.
"Great," I said. "Because I want to introduce you to my great friend Randall here. Randall Drew, prominent orthodontist of Century City, collector of East Asian artifacts, and all-around good guy, meet ..." I gestured around at the three men.
"I'm Thad Urquhart," said the man with the pink puff.
"Jimmy Carlisle," said the second older man.
Our eyes turned to the young blondie.
"Jake Jones," he said. If his eyes were still on me, I didn't know it. I kept mine elusive.
Randall was shaking each of their hands, leaving Jake for last. "I'm sorry for my bold friend," he was telling them. "I hope we didn't intrude."
"Not at all," said Thad Urquhart, apparently the spokesman for the group. "We enjoy meeting new people, don't we, Jake?"
Jake didn't reply. And I refused to look at him to see his expression.
"But we didn't get your name," Thad said to me.
"Call me Ishmael," I told them, and before anyone could stop me, I lifted my hand in a gesture of farewell and shouldered my way back into the crowd.
Randall was on his own now.
And I was on my way back to the bar. Friday night happy hour was always packed, and this night was no exception. A crush of men clustered around the bar, waiting for drinks. It was easy to understand why the line at this station was longer than any of the others. Apparently, much of the crowd agreed with my assessment of the bartender's beauty.
He was young, perhaps very young, but with none of the childish insignificance of Jake Jones. He moved with a determined concentration, mixing drinks with an intense, uncanny focus. Not once did I see his lips, full and pink, stretch into a smile. From his black tank top protruded lean, muscled arms, their lower halves covered with soft dark fuzz. A cleft indented his chin. His hair, almost black, was artfully messy; his cheeks were covered with carefully clipped dark whiskers. At the very base of his neck, a small tattoo of an eagle spread its indigo wings.
But what I couldn't see-and longed for-were his eyes.
I turned. A man was approaching me, a short, slight man of maybe fifty-five. A toothy, eager smile seemed to precede him.
"You are Danny Fortunato, right?"
"Yes," I said, studying him. I didn't know his face.
"That's what I thought," the man was saying, extending his hand. "I'm a huge fan. I'm staying at one of the resorts in Warm Sands, and the innkeeper told me you often come to happy hour on Fridays. I was hoping I'd bump into you, and well, here you are." His smile extended, revealing more teeth. "I'm a huge fan."
I shook his hand. "Thank you."
"I just saw the cover of Palm Springs Life." His face was reddening. "I'm an artist, too, though certainly not of your caliber...." He was still pumping my hand. "I'm not anywhere as good as you are. I've bought several of your prints, in particular the whole series you did for Disneyland. That was amazing! Hollywood classic!"
"Thank you," I said again.
"Do you still sell your prints in retail? Or is it all now just by commission?"
I wanted to get away, get to the bar, discover the eyes I wanted to see. But this man wouldn't let go of my hand. He was gripping it so hard, I was losing feeling in it.
"Mostly commission now, yes," I told him, hoping the conversation would end there. "Hotel chains and restaurants ... you know, that sort of thing."
"Oh, if only I could ever get to that point," he said, "when I'd be well known and well regarded enough to get commissions and just live off those, and not have to crank out so many prints-and you're so much younger than I am!" He sighed, drawing in closer. "I do mostly giclée prints myself. They're sold in a few galleries in L.A. How did you ever get a commission with Disney?"
Excerpted from OBJECT OF DESIRE by WILLIAM J. MANN Copyright © 2009 by William J. Mann. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
William J. Mann is the critically acclaimed author of Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star, as well as The Biograph Girl and the novel The Men from the Boys. He is a contributor to Architectural Digest, The Boston Phoenix, and The Advocate.
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Fun, teary, too long and too short. Commanding insights about the work of love in our lives.
On the surface, this story could seem predictable and stereotypical, bit it's not. It has those fun and quirky elements of modern gay life, but it also touches on many deep issues. The ways that trajedy affects people and how hope and dreams influence all our lives regardless of orientation. This book has comical and sexy moments, but makes you think. Makes you question how much of your identity is shaped by the actions of those around you, and reminds us that the past can be an anchor that drags us down if we allow it to, or it can be the tether that ties us to that innocent child within. Michael Travis Jasper, author of the novel, "To Be Chosen"
I always start a Mann novel with low expectations as I know there will be some over the top writing, sappy stories, and the requisite beautiful boy being lusted after by older men. In general I liked it. The writing is at its best when it leaves Palm Springs and goes to the main characters boyhood, where his sister had gone missing and his mother was going crazy. It's a devastating portrayal. West Hollywood also figures in, as this is where Danny, the aforementioned main character, does his stripping at a popular bar where the owner supplies the coke and Danny gets fellated in the back room by the horny old men for whom a flash of flesh is not enough. Palm Springs is where most of the action takes place, and it fares fairly well, especially the mountains, but Mann gets in some smarmy remarks. Even though older men were often in the company of their boy toys, it's clear that Mann has some disdain for them. Here are a few of his choice quotes: "You forget that in Palm Springs , even turning forty one still qualifies one as chicken...The place was filled with fifty-to seventy-somethings. Distinguished-looking men mostly, men who had once been handsome, men who even now retained some awareness of how they should look, even if they were held together by buttons and cinched belts and oversize Tommy Bahama floral-print shirts.A noticeable few displayed the plumped lips and shiny foreheads of cosmetic surgery. But the ones who stood out the most were the heirs of Liberace, scattered throughout the crowd, wearing red velvet blazers and too much sweet cologne." Of the Danny's fifty-five year old lover, who always falls asleep too early to have sex: "Once Frank had been a few inches taller than I, but no longer. Somewhere over the last two decades, he had settled, like the frame of a house. His joints had retracted; his bones had curled inward ever so slightly. I studied him now at close range, observing the dark circles under his eyes, the mosaic of brown spots etched across his high, shiny forehead." "Edgar, (the owner of the strip club) was an old guy. Forty, I think. Maybe forty-one. He was balding, with a puckered face and nostrils that were permanently red and distended from too much blow. Rumor had it that he had AIDS, too. I wouldn't let him near me." On first seeing Frank: "He might be thirty, but he was still adorable." "Palm Springs, for all its charms, was the proverbial little pond with lots of big fish. The elite was made up of people who spent their time raising money for charities and then giving themselves awards for doing so...all the self congratulating became a little weary." "Some called the bars on one side of Arenas Road the Lairs of the Living Dead. In those places, men in their fifties were considered fresh meat." Mann saves his harshest comments for the "Gods of Palm Springs." These guys are "huge, and hulking. Massive shoulders, ropes for veins, big, hard protruding bellies...Gays on Disability and Steroids."... "The hulking look has been fetishized...the big veins and protruding gut are considered erotic." So, take a look at the book. You might like it. I did to a point, realizing that it won't be featured on the Sunday Book Review cover.