Men Touching: Review

Men Touching
by Henry Alley
Chelsea Station Editions

Reviewed by John Francis Leonard

In this beautifully wrought new novel, Henry Alley explores the complexities of a flawed leading character with great sensitivity and unexpected depth. In doing so, he brings to life again a typical gay man of the mid-eighties with all the fears and hopes of that particular time in our culture.

Robb is the divorced stepfather of a teenaged daughter who may think he’s finally living life outside of the closet, yet is still ensnared by it. He revels in the male form, but lacks the real ability to connect with another man spiritually and physically. His many demons hold him back; he is haunted by the ghosts of a brief but traumatic few months spent in Vietnam, not feeling himself worthy of being called a veteran. He loved another man there, a man who caused a fatal accident while he was in the same Jeep, causing debilitating physical pain as well as psychological trauma that Robb just can’t seem to get beyond. He finally spirals into addiction and mental illness and it seems doubtful that he’ll ever come out of it whole again.

Waiting patiently on the sidelines is his lover, Bart. He tries to support Robb in any way he can, but his patience and his love for this man are sorely tested. He’s undergoing the additional stress of coming out to his own, less-than-thrilled, family. Then there’s the additional trauma of a good friend and former lover being diagnosed with AIDS.

AIDS isn’t a major theme of the book, but Alley incorporates it appropriately and accurately, its having the effect it did on our community at that time and in that place. It’s never not there, always in the background and on the minds of the book’s central characters. And this is what this engrossing novel does so well, it explores the emotional and intellectual lives of its central characters with captivating verisimilitude. Alley has a rare gift and once again captures the truth of a mature gay man from a time and a place obviously both personal and sacred.

John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.