I am floored by how good this was. Yates’ delicate treatment of brotherhood, fatherhood, and the nature of love is at times surprisingly sensuous and always brutally honest. Yates’ touching story of desire set in the heart of a coastal New England wrenches at the heart.
On to the plot! Nathan Bishop is a slightly closeted high school teacher living in a resort town in the middle of Walcott, CT. His family has lived in this little bit of Nowhere’s-ville for the last hundred years. His contrary grandfather built the house a room at a time in between whaling/fishing seasons, and it’s the place where Nathan’s widowed father raised his sons. The boys grew up unusually close, and it’s this closeness that both saves and damns them. Nathan’s father went a bit nuts after their mother’s death, and so the boys grew up taking care of each other. Later on, this fraternal love became more intimate, as the boys pull a VC Andrews and become lovers. After Nathan goes on to college, this mostly stops, and they each convince themselves that this innocent exploration has had no effect on their adult psyches.
At the novel’s beginning, they haven’t seen each other in three years, since their father’s furneral. Nathan got the house, and after the furneral Tommy returned to NYC. But now he’s back! Hooray! What family drama would be complete without dramatic confrontations? This time, though, Tommy brings an entourage with him: his boytoy Philip, his BFF Camille, and Camille’s secretly-gay husband Kyle. During the next few weeks, everyone’s neuroses explode everywhere, all delightfully narrated by the sardonic Nathan, who sees everything going to shit but can’t seem to interrupt the upwelling of drama. On top of this, the Bishop brothers’ lives are further complicated by the appearance of Simon, one of Nathan’s students, whose lonliness and abusive household sets in motion a series of events ending in a dramatic, and painful, climax.
All this is enlivened by Nathan’s intermittant reflections on the joys of small-town life, and the reassurance of having a home. He might hate Walcott and the small-minded people living there, but he loves-loves-loves New England. It’s rare that one reads ambience described with such care and such honesty, down to the surprisingly vivacious tics and the old, hot buildings. Nathan also muses on his decision to teach, on his relationship with his father, and, most of all, on Tommy. Nathan’s love for Tommy is one of the central pieces of the novel’s meditation on love, and it’s through Tommy that we explore love in its various incarnations: romantic, fraternal, and filial.