In his latest novel, “An Older Man,” out novelist and former PGN columnist Wayne Hoffman is revisiting characters he created in his acclaimed first novel, “Hard,” which came out in 2006.
“Hard” followed a group of gay men in 1990s New York City, including activist Moe Pearlman, who were searching for sex and romance against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic, antigay repression and the challenges they faced simply by getting older. Now, in the new novel, these characters are trying to navigate life and happiness in their 40s.
“During ‘Hard,’ the characters are still in their 20s and in some cases in their teens and 30s and they don’t think about what middle age is going to look like,” Hoffman said. “So I think they hadn’t stopped to think about what might come and what it might do to their desires and their relationships and their feelings around sex and community. I don’t think anyone sits back and thinks, I wonder who I’ll be having sex with in 30 years? Some of it catches them by surprise and some are just like, ‘I’m here and I guess I should be happy that I’m here.’”
Hoffman added that he didn’t envision himself revisiting these characters when he wrote “Hard.”
“I never intended to, originally,” he said. “When I finished ‘Hard,’ I moved on and I wrote a different book. It was only after I turned 40 — I’m 44 now — that I started thinking about what it means to get older as a sexually active gay man. I was thinking what I was going through and what friends of mine who are my age are going through and I realized, Oh, you know who’s going through the same things? Moe Pearlman, who is roughly my age. It wasn’t just that I wanted to check in with Moe and his friends. It’s that I wanted to explore what gay men go through when they hit their 40s and their 50s. And Moe seemed like the perfect vehicle to do that. Some readers already knew who Moe was, so seeing his evolution would be more meaningful than starting over with a new character.”
Hoffman, who lives in New York City, moved the action in “An Older Man” away from the city and instead catches up with the characters in Provincetown, Mass., during Bear Week.
Hoffman said the change in scenery was necessary for the story.
“It didn’t have to be Provincetown but it had to be a vacation,” he said. “Whatever your regular rituals are, it’s hard to step back and see where you are in life because you are running on autopilot all the time. What Moe needed to do is step outside of his life for a minute to take stock of things. It doesn’t take long. In the span of a week, he can get enough distance from his life to see what is still working and what is not working and what is missing. That’s why I needed him to go on vacation. You don’t have time when you are working to really see what is happening with your life. Once I knew he had to be on vacation, Bear Week seemed like the perfect place. It’s not just any week. It’s a place where someone like Moe who, even in his 40s, is still hung up on his body image, can be challenged in a positive way and people can make him feel better about himself. I wanted him to be in that kind of place, an affirming, safe place for him to look at himself and look at his life with a clear eye. To do that, he needed to be in a place where he was surrounded by people who love him and supported him. And still, he needs to look at his life and see what is not working.”
So will we see another novel in a few years where Moe and company are in their 60s?
“I didn’t see going back to Moe in his 40s until a couple of years ago so I don’t know,” Hoffman said. “Right now, I don’t have anything planned.”
“An Older Man” is available through Bear Bones Books. Hoffman will host a reading from the book, along with author Thom Nickels, 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, 345 S. 12th St. For more information, call 215-923-2960 or visit www.waynehoffmanwriter.com.