He dates a colorful cast of characters from a Connecticut physician, a rabid Republican, to a Texas-two-stepping, tattooed punk. Next there’s the heavier-than-advertised geek who arrives with a bag of sex toys, but Peter is more serious with a handsome, stern Maine woodsman, followed by a British aristocrat patron who declines further intimacy because of his AIDS.
As Peter negotiates his new gay identity, his best friend, Barry, counsels and supports him at every step, especially as Peter deals with a health crisis. During a decade of sex and shenanigans, Peter, encouraged by his ex-wife, daughter, and son, examines his life and, at last, discovers his soul mate.
In this age of instant messaging it is difficult to imagine a time when people relied on hand written exchanges not only as a means of simple communication but also as a way of getting to know one another. Richard Alther takes us back to this not so long ago time of pre-internet in The Decade of Blind Dates the story of Peter Bauman an artist and father who comes out in his 40s to live openly as a gay man for the first time in his life. While Peter’s coming out affords him a new found freedom to openly date other men and explore his sexuality he subscribes to a number of personal ads in the hopes of finding not only sexual fulfillment but also a partner and soul mate.
In his decade long journey of blind dates, Peter meets a variety of men from all walks of life through personal ads, letter exchanges and telephone conversations many of which have him traveling cross-country, while others are closer to home. Some of the relationships that Peter forms with these men last a few weeks, a few take on the level of potential seriousness lasting a number of months, while some don’t even get off the ground, as the first date is also the last one. Peter’s experiences with the men he meets are often funny, sometimes sweet and at times sad.
And while Peter is on a search to find the perfect mate, life continues to happen. His relationship with his children and ex-wife, always strong and mutually loving and supportive, evolves as Peter and they do. Peter is faced with a serious illness and he makes a fundamental life decision to move from his rural home in New Hampshire to an even more isolated region of Vermont. He also comes to terms with the death of his dear friend Luke who played an instrumental role in helping Peter live honestly as a gay man, and he finally faces his feelings about the tumultuous relationship with his mother.
Throughout all of this there are two constants in Peter’s life, his art and his best friend Barry. Peter’s painting, in particular the portraits of his loved ones, helps him to work through his emotions and he relies on Barry’s steadfast guidance and support to negotiate the relationships that he forms with the men he dates, as well as the events in his life.
There is a refined elegance and sophistication to Alther’s writing that one does not come across every day. He writes this story with wit and intelligence, but it is the richness of Peter’s personal narrative and the author’s textured descriptions of the people, places and feelings in this novel that completely envelop the reader into the varied layers of the story.
The author alternates the story between past and present as well as between Peter’s encounters and experiences with the men he meets and dates and the events of Peter’s life. The author does this seamlessly never interrupting the rhythm and flow of the story, but at the same time, he deftly captures the fact that for the most part Peter keeps his relationships with the majority of the men he meets separate from the more important aspects of his personal life, namely, his family, friends and his work.
The Decade of Blind Dates by Richard Alther is not only a story of man in search of the perfect love, but also very much a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. And in the end Peter finds both love and self. I highly recommend this rich and textured novel that is written with intelligence, humor, emotional honesty and depth.
The Decade of Blind Dates by Richard Alther is available at Amazon.
NOTE: This review was originally published online by Rainbow Reviews.