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Gone Tomorrow.

Gary Indiana's second novel opens simply enough: Two acquaintances (one of them the book's narrator) meet at the Chelsea in New York to discuss the life and mysterious death of a dear, common friend. As they exchange wooden greetings and lukewarm platitudes about life and its rapid passing, one says rather innocently to the other: "The good times race; suffering crawls" -- an aphorism that lurks about this memorable novel.

The narrator and his readers soon depart this meeting and vault back in time seven years, to Cartagena, Colombia, where the common friend, gay film-maker Paul Grosvenor, and a disparate group of actors, producers and other artsy film types (some ex-Nazis among them) are haphazardly cobbling a piece of cinema, despite one another.

Here the story becomes more sinuous, more complex. Various and petty human dramas evolve as old friends and new acquaintances, thrown together in a small space for a long time amid too much wanton creative energy, try to endure and exploit one another.

One cause of much distraction is neophyte actor Michael Simard, a "terrifying beauty" who jolts the libidos of the narrator and his fellow gays. Simard quickly becomes the standard for absolute physical perfection, a mantle he seems willing to carry for the time being, though it relegates him to being only that: an object to be admired, not a person to be explored.

He eventually gives his admirers what they want, in a foreboding poolside orgy that Indiana describes, somehow, graphically but tactfully. Alas, the narrator decides, perfection isn't all the imagined it would be.

The characters that inhabit Gone Tomorrow are brought forth vividly by Indiana's crackling, descriptive prose, which, with glorious detail and clever nuance, captures all their flawed humanness. They are witty and entertaining, impulsive, insecure, undersexed, neurotic, bored, suspicious, pretentious, manipulative, self-involved and sick of themselves. Theirs are personalities shaped by too many weaknesses and bad habits, bearing too many jagged edges. Thus each meeting or conversation becomes a joust, a power play, a test of heart, will and intellect.

An underlying theme that slowly emerges from all this meshing: No matter how exciting a life or a situation might seem on the surface (such as shooting a film in Colombia during Carnaval as a cannibal serial killer stalks the city), we humans, as we inflict ourselves upon one another, waste little time deflating all its glamour. At one point, stoned on marijuana, fed up with his role and over-wrought with ennui, the narrator is prompted to think of "monkeys in cages picking fleas off each other."

Gone Tomorrow is about a lot of things. Initially, on a broad level, it is about how we mortals pursue our emotional needs -- for acceptance, accomplishment, companionship, sex, love. It is about the price of excess and the fragility of happiness. It is about success and how it should or shouldn't be measured. It is about life's grind, its dailiness, and how we reshape or endure it. It is about, as the title implies, how quickly all that we have can disappear.

On a more important level, it is about AIDS and the cruelties it has inflicted upon so many gifted, unsuspecting people. After the film has been shot, the story lurches ahead a bit to New York City at a time when AIDS was just beginning to bear its catastrophic consequences, a time of great ignorance and suicidal denial. The characters in Cartagena have disassembled and gone their ways. Fate is jerking and twisting their lives.

Indiana takes his readers bedside, where Grosvenor's longtime companion, Ray, lies dying, and documents the agony of his slow death. He has drawn his readers here deftly: They knew Ray, distantly. Perhaps they didn't quite like him, but they knew of him; they'd learned a few things about him. Thus, as Ray dies, they can't turn their heads or walk away. They can only imagine his pain, watch him fade and feel a sense of loss.

For the narrator and his crowd, of course, it is one of many such painful scenes to be suffered -- the price of being gay in the 1980s. Eventually he can't walk the streets of New York without seeing a landmark that reminds him of a dead friend, of a time without dread, when things were innocent and gay, in the purest sense of that word: "The city was becoming mined with these architectural aides-memoire; structural residue of vanished lives ..." The price of having loved and been loved.

Unfortunately, as this dark, disturbing and brutally honest novel illustrates, there is more indiscriminate death and suffering to be had, much of it by people who were only trying to live their lives to the fullest.
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Author:Finn, Tim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 28, 1993
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