A midlife crisis can be problematic, especially for a forty one ex-exotic dancer from West Hollywood who also harbors deep insecurities about his family, his partner and his current place in life. Photographer/illustrator Danny Fortunato is well aware that isn't wearing a thong anymore, but this doesn't stop Danny quivering with an unfocused energy as he battles forces that seem to be annihilating his quiet life, especially that of the night his sister Becky disappeared twenty-seven years before, the night when everything in his world changed and the night Danny came to understand that he would never grow up to be the man he had expected to be. Now living in Palm Springs with his older partner Frank, over the years Danny has worked hard to erase the boy he had left behind in East Hartford Connecticut and the tattered and terrible memories of his family, particularly his mother Peggy as she frantically searches for her daughter while wrapping herself in an extravagant solitude while in turn Danny is forced to tag along with his mother through motorcycle bars and strip clubs, looking for Becky. Peggy had operated on the belief that Becky's return was imminent.
From Danny's childhood in East Harvard to the present, Mann covers Danny in every manifestation, reflecting a man who comes full circle, while standing on the mother side of the divide. Dreams he realizes are not enough to distance himself from the enormity of his failures except of course when he snorted that wonderful magical powder up his nose. Mann fully embeds us into Danny's life, his journey to West Hollywood where he's determined to become a famous actor but where he ultimately finds a life dancing in sleazy g*y night clubs, dressed only in a thong, up on his box swinging his slender hips to the music, on the hunt for one sexual thrill after another as he and his colleagues snort lines of coke, "believing that someday he'd be somebody."
Danny's rock is his of love of Frank, now married for 20 years, yet the last four have been a string of silent nights. All this changes on his birthday, when Danny lays eyes on a bartender while drinking one night, the man moving with a determined concentration, his hair almost black, his cheeks covered with carefully clipped dark whispers. Hoping for a chance to speak to him and to peer into his eyes, Danny can no longer deny how hungry he really is. An artist, Kelly, seemed at first to be the personification of innocent youth and Danny is on fire for him to take his staid, stale routine and turn it around, even stand it on its head. Ostensibly meeting to look at his sketches, Kelly's face "stops Danny's breath, his eyes making his heart freeze." Danny realizes that he wants to change Kelly's life, and jumpstart his future for him.
It is Kelly who ultimately challenges Danny in a way that causes him to question his life with Frank, his personal priorities and unquestioning acceptance of the steps that have bought him to this time and place. For the first time in years, through his eyes, Danny realizes his life crisis, aching for the world of sex, for love for life, and the savoring of the necessary fiction of youth. The novel is essentially about a man who comes full circle where the dreams he realizes are not enough to distance himself from the enormity of his failures. Although Danny's present day dilemmas give Object of Desire a feel of immediacy, it is the author's depiction of Danny's past that fuel much of the emotion, that of Danny's furtive attraction to Becky's boyfriend Chipper Paguni and the realization that Peggy never liked his influence on her daughter, and also that of Danny's high school affair with the flame-haired Troy, and the inevitable collapse of his family into drunkenness and failure. Danny remains haunted by the fact that he's never told his mother what he had seen the morning of Becky's disappearance. He knew that Becky was never coming back and that for the rest of his life, he would carry the blame. Although Mann portrays an array of eccentric, believable and multi-faceted characters, that complement Danny's life in both the present and the past, I'm not sure I like Danny's world, from his kind-hearted friends to the phony Palm Springs society elite, who seem content to bleed and then lead-on the like of Danny and his ilk. The novel is often over-written, each melodramatic incident piled on top of the other and in the end Danny himself remains a rather vacuous, painfully pathetic character even as he struggles to find a voice, to reconcile his past and to ultimately remain desirable. Mike Leonard July 09.