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Man About Town    by Mark Merlis Amazon.com order for
Man About Town
by Mark Merlis
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Man About Town is an entertaining novel about a middle aged gay man named Joel Lingeman. Many people would envy Joel's life. He has an overpaid position advising Congress, an attractive, rent-controlled apartment in a desirable area of Washington D.C., a cozy group of gay friends whom he meets regularly for drinks, and last but not least, Joel has Sam, his lover of fifteen years.

Sam abruptly shuts the door on Joel's comfortable existence one night, when he calls to announce that he is not coming home that evening and that he does not know when he will be back, if at all. Sam has met Kevin, who is in his early twenties. Joel cannot compete in the 'departments' of youth, physical fitness, attractiveness and energy. Also, Joel is a self-admitted slob, which can readily be observed in the clothing that he wears, his slothful eating habits and poor personal hygiene, his smoking and drinking, his lack of exercise, and the fact that he only has one suit in his closet that still fits.

Joel needs something new in his life. Sam is gone and not only is Joel alone, but he is starting to feel lonely. While he 'cruises' gay bars in hopes of meeting someone new, whether that person be an evening fling or perhaps a budding relationship, Joel craves human contact and wants to be desired. Since Sam will not be returning, Joel knows that he must embark on a new life. While shocked and perhaps sad that Sam is gone, Joel is more bewildered about where life will take him next, what he will be doing, and with whom.

While Joel is adjusting to his new single status, he finds himself thinking back to an image from his teenage years: a captivating male swimsuit model in a 1964 advertisement in a magazine called 'Man About Town'. The past is calling to him and Joel wants to know what happened to this model and who he is, although they never met and Joel has no idea of his name. Enlisting the services of a detective who questions his motivation, Joel sets out to learn who the real person is behind the faded advertisement. The quest for the identity of the model starts in New Mexico and ends in New Jersey, creating both dismay and happiness for Joel.

This is a touching yet humorous story about a man who attempts to find himself after his lover leaves him. Joel simultaneously ponders who he is, and where he wants to take the rest of his middle-aged life. Interspersed with comic moments and witty criticism that displays the buffoonery of our politicians and Capitol Hill at work, this novel is different from the usual contemporary fiction in a good way. The characters are real, the story is fast paced and holds the interest of the reader throughout. I highly recommend Man About Town to anyone looking for a well-written, entertaining novel that may be different from their usual reading fare.

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