White Guys, by Anthony Giardina

Sex and lies in suburbia
Click to follow

Tim O'Kane is a salesman for a Boston publishing company that specialises in literary anthologies, of which the bestseller, consisting of three centuries of writing by the likes of Hawthorne, Melville, James and Anderson, is jocularly known as White Guys. Of all the stories in this "testicular view of America", the one that most fascinates Tim is John Cheever's "The Country Husband", which exposes the emptiness at the heart of suburban life. As he moves into a middle age increasingly defined by materialism, Tim is determined to prove Cheever's vision wrong.

Although Tim leads a "reasonably happy" life with his wife Theresa and two daughters, he remains a deeply immature man who is emotionally fixated on his boyhood friend, Billy. Giardina gradually reveals Tim's unspoken - and to him unspeakable - desire for Billy. He longs for Billy to "rough up my hair or squeeze my neck the way he once would have done". It is this love for Billy that prompts Tim to hide a gun brought to him by Billy's brother, Ronnie, after Billy's girlfriend has been murdered. It is this love that keeps him from betraying Billy to the police long after he believes him to be the murderer.

The novel's greatest strength lies in the hard-baked dialogue, reminiscent of David Mamet, that brilliantly captures both the aspiration and self-loathing of the upwardly mobile American male. In Tim and Theresa's hollow marriage he skilfully depicts the deceit, evasion and compromise at the heart of American domesticity, where a well-stained porch passes for happiness. Most importantly, Giardina reveals the permanent adolescent beneath the skin of the all-American male, still harking back to the uncomplicated intimacy of masturbation contests with schoolfriends. It is no accident that a new anthology of gay and lesbian literature is one that Tim finds impossible either to read or to sell.

Michael Arditti's new novel, 'The Sea Change', is due from Maia Press in September