How's Your Romance?: Concluding the "Buddies" Cycle

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9780312333317: How's Your Romance?: Concluding the

For a generation, Ethan Mordden's tales about a tightly knit circle of friends who live within the shifting confines of gay Manhattan have entertained tens of thousands of readers and devoted fans. Now Mordden returns to his best-loved characters - the ultimate hunk Carlo; the best friend Dennis Savage; J. (who was once Little Kiwi); Cosgrove the maturing elf-child; and narrator and ultimate observer Bud - in this eagerly awaited new volume in the cycle.
How's Your Romance? brings the series and the characters full circle – from the early days just post-Stonewall to the vicissitudes, delights, and challenges of the early twenty-first century. Blending the comic, the sexy, the tragic, and the at once realistic and idealistic, these stories are Mordden at his very best.

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About the Author:

Ethan Mordden is the author of dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker and many other magazines and journals. He lives in Manhattan.

From The Washington Post:

Ethan Mordden may be joshing us again. He claims that How's Your Romance? is the last installment of "Buddies," his cycle of linked stories about a group of gay male New Yorkers. The previous volumes are I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore (1985), Buddies (1986), Everybody Loves You (1988), and Some Men Are Lookers (1997). We've heard this from Mordden before; the man is a tease, and How's Your Romance? doesn't close on a note of finality. At any rate, its publication offers an opportunity to look back on a work that has kept pace with its subject: modern American gay life.

These new stories contain more episodes in the lives of its regulars: Bud, the narrator, a writer with an intimidating knowledge of opera, classic movies and Broadway musicals (and whose identification with Mordden himself couldn't be clearer -- sometimes the nickname gets shelved, and he goes by "Ethan"); Cosgrove, Bud's live-in boyfriend; Dennis Savage, a schoolteacher; Virgil, Dennis Savage's former live-in boyfriend, also known as Little Kiwi or J.; and Carlo, a hunky pal of them all. That Dennis Savage (he always gets his full name) and Bud live in the same building allows for constant drop-ins, à la "Seinfeld" or "Friends," and the series can be described as a highly literate, roundly raunchy sitcom.

Speaking of friends, there's a moment in Buddies (volume two of the series, that is) when Bud states his theme succinctly: "What unites us all, surely, is brotherhood, a sense that our friendships are historic, designed to hold Stonewall [the 1969 riots that kindled gay liberation] together. It is not rebellious sex habits that define us so much as the rebel coterie itself, the act of not bothering to adjust to gringo procedures. It is friendship that sustained us, supported our survival."

What he might have added is that, in many cases throughout the series, friendship emerges from an affair or even a one-night stand. Lovers come and go, but friends can be perennial, and they, more than couples or families, are what Mordden celebrates and sings. Thus, when J. left Dennis Savage for an outsider a book or two ago, Dennis Savage took it better than the group as a whole.

Cosgrove in particular went into a tailspin, which is only natural since he and Little Kiwi (as he then was) were always teaming up to put on a show or play a game or launch a ditsy enterprise, like a gay Lucy and Ethel. At the beginning of Some Men Are Lookers, for example, their latest rage was the Commercial Game, which involved watching TV with the sound off and improvising their own texts for the ads. "All car pitches are for Subaru," Bud explains. "All horror movies are for something Cosgrove has entitled Exorcis -- 'You can run, you can hide,' he gloats, 'but it's coming to get you' -- and all cereal spots are for Sugar Boy Pops," which is a not-so-veiled epithet for the players themselves.

Often when new characters are introduced, they fail to live up to righteous gay standards. In a story called "The Hunt for Red October" (also from Some Men Are Lookers), the offender is Roy, who takes a tape-measure approach to male desirability. When Dennis Savage questions Roy's maturity, Roy gets cynical: "Oh, please. There are only two kinds of gays -- size queens and liars." Dennis Savage retorts, "I'm not a liar, and I'm not a size queen -- although I can be impressed." Roy does not become part of the group.

On the other hand, the ability to amuse -- whether intentionally or not -- is a big plus. J. has it, as he proves with such fractured clichés as, "If he's mean to you, just throw him away like tomorrow's sawdust." Same with Cosgrove, though his antics are often non-verbal, such as freezing when Bud's answering machine flips on to screen an incoming call, as if moving would alert the caller to Cosgrove's presence.

How's Your Romance? proffers two theories as to why J. dumped Dennis Savage. One is that over time, J. grew tired of "being cute and unpredictable and conceiving outlandish projects and making sure everyone found him seraphic." J. himself gives Cosgrove the other explanation: "It was almost entirely because [Dennis Savage] made me have a day job, while you got to sleep late and goof around." (Both are probably true.) Otherwise, these stories tend to dwell less on the old group than on a new, younger one composed of Bud's knockout cousin Ken and his Chelsea muscleboy acolytes, "the Kens." Which strikes me as rather a copout. Bud and Dennis Savage must be well into their fifties by now, but there's hardly a word here about how, as aging members of the Stonewall generation, they cope with the withering of beauty and the onset of physical decline. Bud and his buddies may not like to face such facts, but Mordden ought to be braver. Or is the prominence of Ken and the Kens in this book a tacit judgment by Bud that older gay men aren't worth studying?

How's Your Romance? is a passable addition to what is overall an entertaining, informative and stylish series. Here's hoping it's only the latest volume, not the last.

Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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