Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Desert Rose

I seem to recall reading Gregory Hinton's Cathedral City many years back, based on reviews comparing it to Tales of the City. It's not quite like Maupin, but I can see where that review came from.

We're in the very late 90's in the Coachella Valley, outside of Palm Springs in Cathedral City, which is slowly transforming from a desert oasis filled with those not welcomed to live in the higher end desert communities to a modern city, complete with megamalls and ice skating rinks. We're centered mainly around Nick's a bar run by Nick and Kenny, a gay couple who've been together a few decades. Nick's become a drunk over time, running the front of the house, while Kenny runs the kitchen with some newly minted citizens of the United States. We hear of Nick's upbringing in an orphanage and Kenny's out out rejecting by his campus priest after confessing to a random encounter with another guy. Indeed, Kenny seems to almost enjoy tormenting Father Gene at the local parish, although Father Gene does eventually admit to waiting to retire to be who he is. Jealous of Father Gene's obsession with Kenny is Inez, who lives across the alley from Nick's. Inez is a very hard woman, having issues getting her citizenship due to a problem with some blood work. Inez was upper class in Mexico, but now is cleaning houses and rooms at one of the local gay hotels. She cleans Ruthie and Sam's house; they own most of the tar paper shacks lived in by the immigrants and the land Nick's sits on. Ruthie was a lounge singer, but she suffers from sever depression. Sam is Jewish, and fights against the constant racism he encounters in the area. We have Pablo, who comes from very rich stock in Mexico, but enjoys hustling in the desert; and we have Maria, who we meet through Kenny when he winds up joining her and her grandmother in an illicit border crossing.

As the book progresses, we watch as all of these relationship stretch, break, expand, heal, and grow in new directions. We watch as Sam tries to protect his quadrant of town from developers, we watch as Marcella the bar maid tries to get a cut of the developer's funds to set up herself. We watch at how hard she falls and how she ends up redeeming herself. We watch Inez and Pablo heal rifts in each other. We watch Kenny and Nick, as Nick dries out in Betty Ford. And towards the end, we, as readers, are privy to all the secrets these people have been hiding from each other.

It's hard reading in places, as I think most readers can fully understand some of the emotional places everyone visits within, the loneliness, the separations, and ultimately, redemption for most. While not all of us will ever get that last, it's worth the hope invested.

Underrated book. A good one for fans of Maupin or Rechy.

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