Book Reviews

The Kingdom of Sand by Andrew Holleran at Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Fiction
Reviewed by ParisDude on 07-June-2022

Book Blurb

The Kingdom of Sand is a poignant tale of desire and dread—Andrew Holleran’s first new book in sixteen years. The nameless narrator is a gay man who moved to Florida to look after his aging parents—during the height of the AIDS epidemic—and has found himself unable to leave after their deaths. With gallows humor, he chronicles the indignities of growing old in a small town.

At the heart of the novel is the story of his friendship with Earl, whom he met cruising at the local boat ramp. For the last twenty years, he has been visiting Earl to watch classic films together and critique the neighbors. Earl is the only person in town with whom he can truly be himself. Now Earl’s health is failing, and our increasingly misanthropic narrator must contend with the fact that once Earl dies, he will be completely alone. He distracts himself with sexual encounters at the video porn store and visits to Walgreens. All the while, he shares reflections on illness and death that are at once funny and heartbreaking.


Book Review

In one of my recent reviews (Robert Ferro’s novel ‘Second Son’, first published right before Ferro’s death in 1988), I mentioned that I suspected one of the secondary characters, a middle-aged man living in Florida where he’s taking care of his ailing mother, was modelled after Andrew Holleran, famous “veteran” writer of gay literature, author of ‘Dancer from the Dance’ and ‘Nights in Aruba’, amongst other books, and like Fero member of the illustrious Violet Quill. Now, I could be mistaken, but I also suspect that the nameless narrator of this book is modelled after its author Andrew Holleran himself—like Holleran, he was born and spent his childhood on a Carribean island (Aruba in Holleran’s case), after all. There’s also Felice Picano’s probable roman à clef “The Book of Lies”review here—(Picano was another member of the Violet Quill), where he talks about the group, thinly veiled behind the name The Purple Circle, and where one of the surviving members is living a recluse’s life in rural Florida, like the narrator of ‘The Kingdom of Sand’. But as I said, I could be mistaken; moreover, Holleran is known for being very protective of his private sphere, so let’s not roam off into the kingdom of speculation.

 

No, let’s remain in the ‘Kingdom of Sand’. This is the story of an ageing (dare I say: old?) gay man, single apparently because he chose to be, of no known profession, with only a handful of friends he’s not too close to and a peaceful, some would say rather dull life, a bit as if he had already forsaken any attempt at a real, active life. “I’d hidden myself away from life and everything that made it brutal,” he mentions at one moment. He’s living in his late parents’ house in northern Florida, somewhere between Gainesville and Keystone Heights if I remember correctly. To be honest, out of sheer curiosity, I google-earthed the region, and on my 21—inch screen it looked much less dreary than it sounded in Holleran’s prose. In fact, the narrator has an intriguing take on things, in turns charmed like a child, then weary like someone who’s already spent too much time on this earth.

 

It’s rather hard to summarize the plot because how can you sum up something that isn’t there? Not “isn’t there” in the sense of an absence, but in the sense of tiny, tricky, slippery grains of sand that simply trickle between your fingers when you try to scoop them up. All you can do is throw them into the wind and enjoy their golden sparkle in the sun. It’s substance without weight, or rather without anyting weighing anything down. In this book, the narrator seemingly starts rambling on page one, recalling memories triggered by trinkets in his house, say, or a chance encounter, or the odd thought while he’s going for a stroll, and continues rambling till the last full stop. Yet what at first glance appears as the streaming digressions of a (bitter? not so sure…) old man has a sort of logic, a sort of consistency, the coherence of someone who projects the image of being happy to be by himself yet who needs this exercice to keep at bay “the silence of spiders spinning webs,” as he says.

 

Often, and quite naturally, too, these long excursuses that sometimes go in circles deal with the subjects of getting old, namely getting old as a single gay man, and of death. The narrator’s father died in the house, his mother in a care unit after a fall down some stairs that left her paralyzed. His closest friend Earl (probably not his best friend, and even the word “closest” has to be seen as a geographical indication rather than one of emotional bonding) is getting old and older before his very eyes, and the narrator observes his increasing “decrepitude” in fascinated, minute detail: the fight, the defiance, the anger at first: “Perhaps that’s what death is as far as the person dying is concerned: a supreme insult to the ego, a narcissistic wound beyond compare—Hitler in his bunker.” Then the fatigue, the lowering of one’s arms, the searching for armistice, the silent pleading to have just a couple of days more, and if possible without too much pain. And finally, the give-up, the tidying of one’s life and possessions (“The most considerate thing we can do when we get old is to clean things up so that others don’t have to after we croak”), the corpse-like acceptance that precludes the inescapable end.

 

If this sounds bleak and dry, boring and depressing, you haven’t read the book. Because despite the narrator’s growing misanthropy, he remains a helluva lucid man who observes the world he lives in—a small, small world indeed, yet one that reflects the big World outside, the one with the capital W—with wry humor and the prophetic sense that all the ailings and deaths he witnesses will one day be his lot, too. Most importantly, however, and here we go from the story to the teller, from the narrator to his (I still think probable) muse and model: the author. Andrew Holleran, who knows how to write, knows how to craft a beautiful sentence and does it not only for a beautiful result, form-wise, but also to fill it with deep meaning. In other words, this book, and I expected no less, was skilfully written, with a fluid, handsome quill, where words flow into each other to not only create sense, make a story emerge, but also to create atmosphere(s).

 

My personal recommendation for this book is sincere and firm. Andrew Holleran has brought me closer to the gay youth of the 70s (my birth decade) in ‘Dancer from the Dance’, one of the first gay novels I ever read. Here, Holleran has shown me what could await me in my older years (although, the gods willing if they exist, I’ll still be with my hubbie), and he has done so brilliantly, a master of evocative language and atmosphere.

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of a review.

 

Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 274 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 07-June-2022
Price $13.99 ebook, $27.00 hardcover
Buy Link https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Sand-Novel-Andrew-Holleran-ebook/dp/B09CNFQVHV