Hoffman, Wayne. “Hard”, Bear Bones Reprint, 2015.
Politics and Psyche
I started seriously reviewing in 2006 and one of the first books that I wrote about was Wayne Hoffman’s “Hard”. Now some nine years later “Hard” is being reissued. I wasn’t young back then but I suppose that I was a bit naïve and surprised to find sex written so openly about but then I had been out of the United States for many years and I certainly had not read anything in Hebrew that was anything like “Hard”.
Set in the 1990s, the novel is about a group of young AIDS activists who had to two goals—to fight City Hall because of its then crackdown on gay businesses and to get laid. Moe Pearlman feels that his sex life is under attack because the mayor is closing down bathhouses, sex clubs and adult theaters. What many did not know is that this was bring done with the secret agreement of Frank DeSoto, publisher of the only gay newspaper in town. As the crackdown continues, tensions between Moe and Frank become a battle and a personal fight between two men with opposing ideas of what it means to be a gay man in the age of AIDS. Moe feels that he just might have found romance in Max Milano but that ended when Max walked in on him and several others having hot sex and Moe finds that the man of his dreams is unable to deal with such a promiscuous boyfriend. Frank who is turning fifty is having something of a sexual renaissance but that is because he is paying for sex. There is another main character, Aaron Chiles who is Moe’s best who learns that his new boyfriend is selling his body on the street and he is having trouble accepting that. I did not mention Gene Macintosh, Moe’s HIV-positive ex-lover, who is delighted to find that his viral load is undetectable, but Moe still treats him like a health risk. “Hard” looks at the world of sex and we see that politicians do indeed make “strange bedfellows”.
“Hard” looks at a world where “sex is a matter of life and death” and sexual politics, both public and private. Moe has quite a reputation in New York City—his skills in performing oral sex are legendary but this is now under attack because of the closure of the places where gay men went to play. Frank, made a bundle from gay men and their lust for sex clubs, drugs and adult movie houses but after he lost his lover to AIDS, he became a moral crusade against sexual activities.
We get quite a cast of characters here, both men and women and we see how personal experiences affect political affiliations as well as define identity. Hoffman also brings in the issues that still divide us today— be they political, generational, sexual, racial, class, gender and HIV status. There is also great comedy here—Moe’s organization, Alliance to Save Sex for example plays with words and there are a series of minor characters that make the story human.
I was not in the United States at the time the book takes place and so much of what I read was new to me. I can just imagine the fear surrounding AIDS and we certainly heard about it in Israel where I was living but nothing like what went on here. We also read of the hope for a cure and looking at gay life as it is today, I find to be completely contemporary. We now have a degree of liberation and the ambivalence that surrounded our sexual freedom back then has changed a bit. We cannot ever forget how it once was and by not forgetting we are able to see how far was have come.
“Hard” is author Hoffman’s first novel and he did a great swan dive into the pool of gay literature. It grabs you on the very first page and does not let go even when we finish reading it. Yes, it is funny but it also deals with some very important themes and ideas—some of which we do not speak openly about. The novel is highly erotic and there is sex on almost every page but this is not just a sex-filled romance but rather a look at how some of us once lived. Hoffman shows us all sides in the battle that took place in New York City, the battle that meant love or death for our community. We meet gay men who attempt to make their peace with how to have a love life and a sex life as AIDS loomed all around them. Hoffman writes with very strong and subversive ideas and characters that run the gamut of sexuality at that time. All of us have known someone who is like one of the characters here and as they argue over what behavior is considered acceptable at the time that a disease is killing us, we read dialogue that speaks truth. It does so through twists and turns and we laugh and become angry sometimes at the same time.
For those of you who have asked, there is a sequel coming in August, Hoffman has informed me. Be on the lookout for “An Older Man”.