By Megan Harlan
Updated July 19, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Though a cameo by ”Patient Zero” — the flight attendant who purportedly introduced AIDS to the U.S. in 1979 — casts a foreboding shadow in the book’s finale, the bathhouse-strewn New York gay scene of the decade prior is the setting for Brad Gooch’s historically rich if emotionally dry second novel. ”Quiet but wild” Sean Devlin drops out of Columbia, moves downtown, becomes a gay pornographer/art filmmaker, and achieves success. His darker tendencies soon steep him in drugs and violent sexual games in the back rooms of gay clubs like the Mineshaft. But his pretentiously distanced take on life (”He realized he was fascinated by anyone who would pose”) dulls his adventures. Gone is the evocative prose of City Poet, Gooch’s bio of Frank O’Hara; in its place, unfortunately, is The Golden Age of Promiscuity‘s airless affectation that never allows the characters to breathe. C

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