For those of us who fell in love with our best friends growing up, Michael Thomas Ford's Full Circle appears to be a dream come true: exploring the question of what happens if your best friend -- the jock, the stud, the fantasy -- becomes your first love? Suddenly pitching a tent at Boy Scout camp takes on a whole new meaning.
Given that Full Circle has an almost identical cover to Ford's previous two novels -- profiles of men in white shirts and jeans staring off into the distance -- readers would naturally expect a happy ending.
After all, in the Provincetown-based Last Summer, boy gets boy, superstar Hollywood hunk comes out, boy becomes girl, and an adulterous ex-lover gets no one. In Looking For It, Ford writes a slightly darker tale, delving into hate crimes, drugs and losing lovers, but still with resolutions neatly tied in a bow for the holidays. For the first two books, the sexy cover is fitting.
In Full Circle, this design is again used, but when readers find themselves in Vietnam preparing the bodies of dead soldiers for return to the States, they're going to look back to the cover and feel shammed by a marketing ploy.
His third work of fiction, in Full Circle Ford takes his readers on a dramatic ride as he chronicles decades of gay events, including the onset of AIDS, drug abuse, pornography, hustling, gay-bashing, and, most surprisingly, two tours of duty in Vietnam.
The heart of Full Circle is Ned, a history professor in his mid-50s trying to put his past behind him by living the quiet life in Maine. A phone call summoning him back to his previous circle of friends prompts Ned to finally reveal all the sordid truths of his past to his partner of 15 years. Full Circle recounts nearly 30 years of friendship between Ned and his neighbor/best friend/lover Jack and their relationship with Andy, a man who would both come between and bind them all together.
After dealing with coming out, college and Vietnam (which receives more weight than it deserves in the story), the three men reunite in San Francisco and traverse the challenges of being gay in the '70s and '80s. Throughout it all, Ford explores his thesis, ''The friendship of boys is a powerful and mysterious thing.''
Ned's omnipotent voice breaks into the story at jarring times, questioning why his friendships with Jack and Andy even existed and offering bitter commentary on parallels to the present day and the awful state of affairs under George W. Bush. Mini-lessons are interspersed throughout the book, such as the creation of Valentine's Day. However, like most history lessons, these lectures are a little dull.
In more amusing asides, Ford infuses historical moments and ''predictions'' into the story with cameos such as political-hopeful Harvey Milk working the bar scene, the start of a serial story in the San Francisco Chronicle that would eventually become Tales of the City, and the musing that Gloria Vanderbilt's 6-year-old son, Anderson, is going to grow up to be gay. It brings to mind a gay Forrest Gump stumbling into moments of history.
Ford attempts great things with this book, not the least of which is to establish himself as a more serious writer. As a history of gay life from 1950 to 1990, Full Circle is a watered down version of Ethan Morddan's How Long Has This Been Going On?, a more richly developed story with a larger cast of characters. On the other hand, if you're looking for lighter fare and want to live out the high school romance happily, Steve Kluger's Almost Like Being in Love is a better beach read for the summer.
For a combination of both, and to witness a writer best known for his syndicated column expand his portfolio and bring new weight to his work, Full Circle will certainly satisfy. It just may be better for a rainy day rather than the trek to the beach.