The third novel by the author of PINS and Monkey Suits takes readers on a swift ride of bike messengers, AIDS activism, gay sexuality and urban angst.
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Kent R. Hyles, a 24-year-old jaded activist-emeritus, rides through Manhattan as a bike messenger, dodging more than traffic. Ness, his HIV-positive not-boyfriend, lures him to easier climes on the West Coast as he prepares to leave New York.
Still recovering from a passionate affair with Eric Cleese, a popular activist clone, Kent chooses the swift escape of traveling on wheels through the streets of the New York in the early 1990s. Even the advice of a Jamaican messenger leaves him confused, seeking random sexual encounters when not working or avoiding cab doors.
Leaving New York would be easy, but he has a project, born of a chance meeting with a corporate underling, Michael Sheets, who’s eager to learn how to sell a cause, and how to come out. Trading in information for the promise of a lot of money, the messenger learns how to use his skills for a conflicted idealism; theft for a cause.
Each chapter heading is listed with the street corner where the action takes place. Cyclizen offers a brisk and sexy read set in a recent yet almost historic time in New York City. Parental surprise visits, ex-lovers colliding at the laundry, and a brief tragic accident stir up enough problems to inspire an evolution; no longer citizen, not merely cyclist; a cyclizen.
Cyclizen explores the class divisions of metropolitan life, the angst and pleasures of casual sex, and offers a darkly comic take on gay culture and relationships.
As with his previous novels, Provenzano weaves a deeper story, that of the demise of the tribe of centaurs. With clever symbolism, names and plot devices, he retells a mythic tale in a contemporary urban setting.
"There he was in the window, pumped up and glistening like an Amsterdam hooker. It was the wheels that tempted me, thick round chunks like giant Oreo cookies. I couldn’t wait to get ‘em muddy, real muddy. Hide the beauty under Central Park soot.
"If you’re expecting some sort of Zen and the Art of Bike Maintenance from me, forget it. My theory, if extended to life maintenance, is simple. If it breaks, fix it. If you can’t figure out how, hire a professional. If it squeaks or sticks, grease it. Other than that, I pretty much just ground the parts out. Until I figured out which kind of tires to get to prevent flats on the dangerously trash, nail, glass, and pothole-filled avenues, riding wasn’t fun. Not every cyclist shared any presumptuous camaraderie. In fact, some of them could probably be counted on to steal any part not locked down."