Hard by Wayne Hoffman, first published in 2006, is set in the mid- to late-1990s and centers on two men Frank DeSoto and Moe Pearlman and their respective circle of friends.
The novel takes place when Giuliani (although he is never mentioned by name) was mayor of New York City and intent upon “cleaning up” NYC. In many cases this was code for closing may gay establishments. The mayor (unknowingly) had the support of Frank DeSoto, the publisher of NYC’s only gay newspaper. Frank’s past promiscuous behavior had resulted in his losing most of his friends and the love of his life to AIDS. Determined to save the next generation from the same fate, Frank uses his self-funded gay newspaper as a bullypulpit to chastise gay men for what he viewed as reckless sexual behavior and ignoring the lessons of the previous generation.
Moe Pearlman is a Jewish man in his mid- to late 20s who moved from Washington, D.C. to NYC for graduate school the previous year and fell in love with the gay scene. Led by his libido and a political activism born out of Act Up and other sex-positive grassroots organizations in NYC, Moe is determined to live his life as he sees fit and bristles at the paternal postulations from Frank and the conservative mayor seeking to make a name for himself in an otherwise liberal city.
I really enjoyed the 300-page novel, which centers on gay sexual liberation, relationships and gay life in New York City. Hoffman captures the times beautifully as the gay community’s political activism born out of a public health crisis (AIDS) was slowly gaining acceptance and increasingly becoming commercialized. While Moe is the main character and his wrangling with Frank constitute much of the storyline, Hoffman enriches the story by delving into key relationships both men have which makes the characters more human and relatable. This includes the loving dynamic between Frank and his in-laws long after their son has passed. Moe’s relationship with his family, former lover and best friend.
For any gay man who was sexually active in the 1990s, the relationship dynamics and tensions in the gay community on what it meant to be “sexually responsible” will resonate. It is one of the few books I’ve read about that time which grapples with the issue of AIDS and sexaulity that had me turning pages late into the night and not filled with dread or depressed. The book is sexually explicit but not at the expense of the narrative, which makes the story all the more compelling and enjoyable to read.
If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. The links below will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks.