A steelworker who's "tough as the material he works with"? I thought that sort of cliche died with Vachel Lindsay. But then Frey's a very old-fashioned writer, who combines the homoerotic machismo of Hemingway with the sentimentality and syntax of Saroyan and Sandburg -- a nasty mix, a soiled, archaic rich-boy populism.
Never one to be shy, Frey squeezes every drop of bathos out of his new pals. Leonard, the Mafia guy, reveals that his whole career was based on his loyalty to Mike, a Mafia boss with a heart of gold (suuuuuuure!) who raised the orphaned Leonard, taught him the business and then was shot down while Leonard watched. Mike's death scene is another cliche: "Leonard's voice cracks and tears start running down his cheeks. 'I held [Mike] as he bled. Just held him and told him how much I loved him. He was still conscious and he could still talk, but he knew he was done. Right before he went, he lifted a bloody hand and he put it right on my cheek. He looked me in the eye and he said, live honorably and with dignity, respect the memories of all your parents...' And then he died, right in my arms, shot down like a fucking dog. He died in my arms.'
Leonard breaks down and starts weeping."
At the end of the novel, Leonard becomes Frey's fairy Godfather, announcing:
"...I would like you [Frey] to be my Son. I will watch out for you as I would if you were my real Son, and I will offer you advice and help guide you through your life...."
Frey's tale of being adopted by a Mafia figure epitomizes the greed for notoriety, as decor, which drives this novel and its whole genre. Frey already has two trusting, devoted, wealthy parents. It's their money and devotion that get him to the clinic in the first place. But when they come to visit him in the clinic, he's furious. He can't stand being around them. Frey claims to be puzzled at the intensity of his anger at his real parents, but it's really very easy to understand. Mom and Dad have already given him what he requires of them: money, security, and the confidence to go slumming and then, when the time is right, to cash in on his Manhattan connections to become famous.
By visiting him in the middle of his street-cred winning campaign, Frey's parents threaten to ruin the whole con. Rehab, for trust-fund druggies like Frey, is a place to be born again, as the son of cool Mafia Dons and the trusted friend of serious black guys. Having Mom show up and hug you right in front of them is worse than Mom dropping you off at the Prom.
Luckily, Daddy has to take off for Brazil, and Frey can return to bizarrely detailed descriptions of every single hug and tearful farewell between him and his new pals.
And I mean detailed. It takes Leonard and his new son three pages just to get out to the limo. And there, of course, there must be another maudlin goodbye, stretched to absurd length. Anyone else would've said, "We hugged and said goodbye," but Frey takes you through every step of the process, padding his bathos as if explaining "hug" to a Martian: "Leonard steps forward. He puts his arms around me and he hugs me. I put my arms around him and I hug him. He lets go and he steps away and he looks in my eyes and he speaks."
And even after the blow-by-blow account of the big hug, it's not over, because of course there must be another macho-yet-tearful farewell: "[Leonard]: 'Be strong. Live honorably and with dignity....'
I look back. In his eyes.
'I'll miss you, Leonard.'
'We'll see each other soon, my Son.'
I nod. I force myself not to cry."
Frey and his tough-guy friends spend more time weeping and hugging than the runners-up in a Miss America competition. Frey's aggressively male stance has something archaic, even campy about it. Frey has placed the entire book in a gender-segregated institution, recalling Hemingway's title Men without Women. (Male patients are not allowed to say anything more than "Hello" to female patients in Frey's rehab center.) And like most homoerotic novelists of the 1930s, his true period, Frey resorts to violence to prove he's no homosexual, confessing (that is to say, boasting) that he beat a French priest to death for daring to place his hand on Frey's utterly masculine thigh.