Rising on a lonely stretch of highway between Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City is targeted by deep-pocketed developers with plans to build the city from the ground up. Against this backdrop, Kenny and Nick cling to each other and to their struggling local nightspot as a wealthy, young Mexican hustler rolls into town.
Paperback, 342 pages
May 1st 2002
(first published June 1st 2001)
Somewhere off a desert highway nestles Cathedral City, a little town with a colorful past… not quite the bohemian Shangri-la it used to be. These days the real estate comes with built-in conflict, because developers plan to bulldoze both the barrio and the gayborhood. Handsome hustler, desperate diva, Semitic slumlord – it would be easier to care about the fate of the residents if Gregory Hinton’s characters weren’t all from central casting. Take Kenny, a gay man who compulsively hangs around thSomewhere off a desert highway nestles Cathedral City, a little town with a colorful past… not quite the bohemian Shangri-la it used to be. These days the real estate comes with built-in conflict, because developers plan to bulldoze both the barrio and the gayborhood. Handsome hustler, desperate diva, Semitic slumlord – it would be easier to care about the fate of the residents if Gregory Hinton’s characters weren’t all from central casting. Take Kenny, a gay man who compulsively hangs around the local church, the better to do the whole Catholic guilt thing. (Inevitably, the priest develops a crush on him.) When he’s not kneeling in prayer, Kenny fantasizes about killing his boyfriend. Then he falls in love with this beautiful Latino woman he rescues from…
Well, that gets complicated. Meanwhile, Kenny’s lover keeps promising to quit drinking; the restaurant they run together is about to be foreclosed on; their new waiter is turning tricks in the alley, and…
Problems, problems, problems. But everyone in the book seems to hate their lives. You will too. The town apparently represents a state of mind (or something), just as each of the doomed characters personifies a different oppressed group. Leaping from scene to scene, Hinton’s jump-cut technique trivializes the themes, reducing everything to cinematic tropes. (Surprise! He has a Hollywood background.) Cliffhangers, flashbacks and dream sequences further clutter the narrative, and the author can’t seem to settle on a tone, one moment striving for lofty polemics about tolerance and safe sex, then abruptly descending to a barely utilitarian style. The contrived subplots all hinge on coincidences, and the strangely overwrought descriptive passages only add to the confusion. Picture Harold Robbins doing Magical Realism.
It’s just too awful to contemplate.
Plausibility is scarcely the order of the day. A sequence in which Kenny gets swept away by a flash flood while helping illegals to cross the desert manages to suggest both “The Perils of Pauline” and “The Ten Commandments.” But then all the characters perform improbable actions and make unlikely statements. Even thought processes, followed at length, fail to ring true, the interior monologues of good characters often reading like public service announcements. Bad characters virtually twirl their mustaches. And everyone is so depressed.
About a hundred pages in, a Latino hustler enters this lugubrious schematic. Pablo appears to have wandered in from a different book, certainly a different kind of book, his physical perfection rendered in overripe terms, the size and rigidity of his member attested to repeatedly. Also, he has a heart of gold. (Obviously, the author never met a cliché he didn’t like.) Pablo doesn't really get drawn into any of the plot machinations, but being constantly nearby enables him to rush to everyone’s assistance in the nick of time. Over and over. Just the way Kenny does. And the lounge singer. And…
(I have a suspicion the author may have been headed for Maupin country but should have hung a left at Albuquerque.)
Despite the snarl of storylines, the most predictable events occur relentlessly – if very gradually – in Cathedral City. Perhaps Hinton felt that making the story miserable would give it depth? Whatever. The sheer dismalness of the climax only serves to suggest that even the author must have grown weary with it all. But beware. There’s a sequel.
I liked this a lot and think you would too. Set in a Palms Springs low-rent suburb and involves culture clashes between gays and Mexicans and real estate developers--kind of hard to pin down but it is by turns very funny and very poignant. Some pretty steamy sex too, some of which is even hetero.