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Burning Girl.

Burning Girl * Ben Neihart Rob Weisbach Books * $24

Anyone who follows gay lit will certainly remember the excitement caused by Alan Hollinghurst's first novel, The Swimming-Pool Library. By combining superb storytelling with a touch of understated British wit, he created a benchmark of sorts. We instinctively realized it wouldn't get any better than this. This was the way E.M. Forster would be writing if he were alive today, although I must say I can't quite picture old Morgan (as his friends called him) stuck in a K-hole and hiring rent boys from Brazil.

Hollinghurst's new book, titled The Spell, has just been published, and while it lacks the compelling story that helped distinguish The Swimming-Pool Library, it remains a true British comedy of manners. The protagonists are four gay Brits, ranging from young to middle-aged and of varying social classes, who fall under the spell of love, romance, and sexual adventuring during the course of a beautiful English summer. Robin is a successful architect with a gay son, Danny, in his early 20s. Justin is Robin's lover, who inherits a great deal of money, and Alex, very tall and full of longing, is Justin's ex. I found them all channing people with whom I immediately identified; the first question whenever a new man shows up is invariably "What's his dick like?"

Hollinghurst's goal this time around is to entertain, and he does so brilliantly. I'm not quite sure what Ben Neihart's goal was in Burning Girl, his second novel. True, he does have his virtues, mostly a strong and unique verbal style, beautifully balanced, spare, and elegant, like fashion photography. But the contents are another matter.

Our hero, Drew, is a college student who is the friend and lover of a rich brother-sister pair who may or may not have murdered this trampy Sylvia Plath look-alike from Lancaster County, Pa. The characters are so cool and so hip that I hated them on sight, and things get so complicated that toward the end Neihart is reduced to writing one sentence paragraphs he puts in italics, such as "Make it go away."

My sentiments exactly.

Plunket is the author of My Search for Warren Harding and Love Junkie.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Plunket, Robert
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 27, 1999
Previous Article:The Spell.
Next Article:Best-selling books.

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