The first writer to make a gay life seem glamorous, sophisticated and sexy to me ( in DANCER FROM THE DANCE); one potentially full of humour, dancing, sex and the search for romance; now turns his eye to old age. Andrew Holleran’s triumph in THE KINGDOM OF SAND is to make a page turner about all the little sadnesses that accompany it: the increasing loss of mobility, the loss of friends and increase in loneliness; the social invisibility; the feeling of being out of step with the world.
The unnamed narrator moved back to Florida from New York to look after his ageing parents, which he did until –many, many, years later — they died; it’s a world of highways, malls, suburban houses with for rent signs. He still goes to the gym, still cruises in piers, rest stops, video stores and the few remaining physical spaces only those one step from the grave continue to visit for sex. There’s another world in Grinder but one he feels too old to connect to. So he visits his friend Earl to listen to opera and watch old movies, gets little thrills out seeing the young men who bag his groceries; times his visits to Walgreens so he can get a look at the pharmacist with the Edgar Allan Poe face or the clerk with the Bette Davis eyes.
Movies become a point of reference. Is Earl’s handyman becoming too much like Charles Boyer in GASLIGHT? Or maybe Mrs. Danvers in REBECCA? Why are they embarrassed to be seeing DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS in their own living room just because a heterosexual’s around? Why don’t people talk like they do in THE THIN MAN? Why can’t everyone be like Irene Dunne?
The narrator’s friends are spread all over the country but few live near him. So aside from brief visits or phone calls, his time is spent establishing a routine and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. He ponders the significance of the mementos his parents and his friends have left him, when to clear his house in preparation of death, who to leave things to, is there ever a good time to enter the care facility? The search for human connection persists and the attempt at kindness to others in not letting them know the loneliness he suffers from: ‘There’s not many things more forlorn than going to a mall to look at people’. It’s a book that succeed in immersing the reader in this particular world, one becoming all too familiar, with many passages one underlines to remember and savour.