The strength of Cecilia Tan's fiction has always been her characters. She can write delightfully wicked villains that you can't help but love to hate. She can pen a cad with the best of them. But in my opinion, she shines the brightest when her she writes a character who is simply heartwrenchingly sweet, especially when that character seems to hope beyond hope that this wasn't true of them.
The protagonist of this story is one of those characters. Rock guitarists are supposed to be thick-skinned and effortlessly charming cads. Daron isn't this at all: Daron is...well, he's real. It's 1986 and Daron isn't even 20 yet and he's already well on his way to being a future rock god. Unfortunately instead of being a womanizing sweet-talker he's an averagely awkward 19-year old who just happens to be gay (even though he can't even bring himself to say the word.) He doesn't know anything yet about who he really is, or what he needs in a partner, or even if he wants a partner at all. All he knows is that in his business “faggy,” “queer,” and “gay” are the most viciously insulting words there are.
There is a fantastic scene early on the in the book in which Daron is walking around the East Village in NYC with Carynne, a girl his age who is desperately trying to sleep with him while he is desperately trying to come up with excuses not to without confessing that he's gay:
***I kept my own eyes ahead, trying not to stare at the graffiti splashed across the steps ("Queer By Choice") trying not to hear the conversation of the two men coming the other way, trying to shut it all out. My hands felt damp as they brushed against my jeans. Everything here was a signal, a secret handshake, a subliminal image, and I wondered how long it would take Carynne to see right through me. What would I do that would give myself away? Even I had no way of knowing.***
The author does a fantastic job throughout the book of generating empathy for her lead character without provoking pity. We as readers can feel his hurt and his confusion, and share his victories and regrets. Being gay is an integral part of who Daron is, but Ms Tan doesn't fall into the trap of allowing his sexuality to become his identity entire. He is a well-rounded sympathetic and delightful character in a charming, at times poignantly sad but always engaging book. Rock on, Daron, rock on!