The epic family saga is not something that lends itself easily to gay lives, but Like People in History comes engraved with Edmund White's effusive tribute that this is "the gay Gone With the Wind". If only it were. Picano lacks the sweeping sense of the broader picture that Margaret Mitchell evoked effortlessly. Her characters were strong and fiercely delineated. PIcano's have no such power. Nine-year-old cousins Roger and Alistair first meet in white-picket-fence 50s America, their story will end in an ambulance in the 1990s Their lives, told in flashback, chart the experience and the politics of gay America through Woodstock and Stonewall, the legendary Fire Island parties of the seventies to AIDS, ACT UP and the present. Each event from the past is mirrored in the present, the stories running in stilted parallel. Though it is difficult not to admire the scope and breath of Felice Picano's undertaking, the novel feels hollow.
This is a story of friendship and rivalry, of betrayal, of love and of reconciliation. Picano has lived through the best of times and the worst, but he only seems to remember the details, who wore what, the bitchy comments, the bon mots. "Like People in History" is like eavesdropping on gossip about people you don;t know - there are flashes of humour, of action, but you never actually care. History itself seems little more than a backdrop in a overlong, tedious gay soap opera.
If gay fiction needs an epic, it may come from Michael Cunningham whose second novel "Flesh and Blood" is everything that Picano's is not: rich, resonant, charting a century of gay lives in the context of their times. And White's tribute? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.