Here, with Vertical Intercourse, comes Paul Reed's long- awaited third novel, a stunning, stylish, and deeply moving tale of nine friends. Set in San Francisco -- with all the haunting lyricism for which Reed is known -- this novel examines the beauty of romance, the challenges of relationships, and confrontations with the past. As the novel opens, the narrator is meeting with his new therapist for the first time, hoping to find meaning as he approaches his fortieth birthday. His rich social life involves an intriguing group of men and women, each filled with enthusiasm and the joy of living fully, despite difficulties and setbacks -- from the ebullient young woman called "Mad Mama," to AIDS patient Michael, and the narrator's housemates and best friend Charlton, an older gentleman with all the wisdom and grace of having seen it all. But the inevitable challenges of life intervene, and each character must confront the meaning of aging in the gay community, of health crises beyond the epidemic, of masculinity, dashed dreams, and hope.
After a decade- long literary hiatus, the multitalented Reed (author of fiction, nonfiction and erotica) has produced this thoughtful, talky novel set in contemporary San Francisco. The unnamed narrator, an anxious, single, gay book editor, struggles with many life- altering issues, among them his impending 40th birthday, his rehab past and his nagging survivor's guilt, inspired by the loss of his "third or fourth generation of friends" to AIDS. Melancholy though his days may be, he dictates his ongoing activities with gossipy verve. Whimsical pals Charlton and Michael, budding new love Anson and roommates Kent and Scotty form an endearing circle of friends. When Michael's health begins to deteriorate, just as Scotty receives startling news from his doctor, everyone's allegiances are put to the test. With the aid of a peculiarly blas psychotherapist, the narrator tries to come to terms with his friends' illnesses (and his own HIV- positive status) while mourning the decline of the once vibrant gay scene. Reed's prose skillfully balances pathos and pleasure, and he should be praised for his empathetic exploration of what it means to be a gay man facing middle age, a delicate subject often skirted by more mainstream gay novelists. Rambling therapy sessions tend to impede narrative momentum, and the expensive trappings of upscale gay life are described in relentless detail, but the author's dead- on dialogue, social insight and romantically rendered Northern California backdrop preserve the book's edge. Essentially plotless, but heartfelt and intelligent, Reed's tale pays homage to the transformative powers of loss and revelation. In addition to its undoubted popularity in the San Francisco area, this affecting tale should hold strong appeal for the wider, particularly older, gay community.
Paul Reed is the author of more than a dozen books, including the novels Vertical Intercourse, Facing It, and Longing. His nonfiction work ranges from memoirs and humor to essays on AIDS and health. His short stories, reviews, and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Black Sheets, The Advocate, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Bay Area Reporter, University Journal, and the collections Stolen Kisses and Pulp Friction. Writing under the penname of Max Exander, he has authored five volumes of erotica. Mr. Reed holds a Master of Arts degree in social anthropology from the University of California at Davis. For a decade, he worked as a book editor at the Berkeley publishing firm Ten Speed Press. Since 1991, he has been disabled with AIDS. A native Californian, he divides his time between San Francisco, Healdsburg, and Miami.