"...satirical debut novel...bubbly comedy of manners...witty and rather self-deprecatory adventure of the trials and tribulations of gay dating."
"It didn't matter if it was green, yellow, orange, red, purple, or even pink, I love all fruit," says forty-five-year-old Curtis Jenkins, the protagonist of Arthur Wooten's sweetly satirical debut novel, On Picking Fruit. This bubbly comedy of manners centers on the efforts of Curtis to find the man of his dreams, sometimes against outwardly intractable odds.
Blessed with a mother who liked to smoke joints while she breastfed Curtis's younger brother, Stewie, and growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Bremerton, New York, Curtis is the first to admit that the relationships early in his life were primarily with inanimate objects. No matter; Mom has always been incredibly compassionate toward her gay son and way ahead of her time in supporting gay rights.
We first meet Curtis when he's a successful and available writer, a physically buff New Yorker still searching for that ever-elusive man of his dreams. He readily accepts that all he wants is a smart, sexy, sensitive single superman with a sense of humor.
But a failed suicide attempt leads Curtis to visit a psychiatrist, Dr. Magda Tunick, who together with her blind dog encourages Curtis to gird his loins, keep his eyes open, and forever be ready to meet the man of his dreams. Curtis, however, isn't quite ready to meet the peculiar concoction of men who walk into his life.
Curtis finds himself dating Desifinado, a gym buddy who suspiciously doesn't drink alcohol, says he is a contract player on two soap operas, and even speaks seven languages. Sounds promising, until Curtis sees Des unselfconsciously checking the back of his head with a woman's compact mirror in a men's locker room.
Throwing caution to the wind, Curtis decides to have a drink with Calvin, aka Runway, with his jacket-style mink coat and his campy ways who comes on to Curtis far too strong. Meanwhile, the handsome Dewitt tries to wine and dine Curtis; he thinks that he's a beacon of light and is absolutely positive that all gay men are attracted to him "like moths to a flame."
Adding to the antics is Bartlett, who pulls out his Liza Minnelli photo album at a moment's notice and seduces Curtis with promises of some fun in an upscale gay resort. Not to be forgotten are Curtis's hip mother, who decides in middle age to flirt with lesbianism, or his best friend, Quinn, a television writer who calls from Los Angeles, constantly encouraging Curtis to get out there and "sample all that fruit."
From the horny unfamiliarity of Internet chat rooms to the bawdy fun of Hooters and even a lesbian softball game, Curtis begins to realize that maybe he's just attracted to the wrong types and looking in all the wrong places. Of course, New York can be anything but friendly, and Curtis is destined to meet those men who are wary of dating someone who is HIV-positive.
Sophisticated and stylish, even full of hope, Curtis walks through a world of swanky restaurants and downtown gay bars, the search for his soul mate becoming almost like a game, just like "picking the fruit" at the local grocery store. It isn't until he meets the kindly Eric that many of Curtis's suppositions are challenged, forcing him to recognize that true love comes in the unlikeliest of forms.
A true New York story, On Picking Fruit certainly isn't going to set the literary world on fire, but Wooten's slight, genteel style and his manner of humanizing even the most bizarre incidences make On Picking Fruit an enjoyable read and a witty and rather self-deprecatory adventure of the trials and tribulations of gay dating.
Occasionally raucous and always funny, the novel is also a much-needed unique voice that speaks for all of those forty-something gay men who are out there still searching for love while also living with HIV/AIDS.