Cover Image: The Kingdom of Sand

The Kingdom of Sand

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Member Reviews

This book is so beautifully written - its exquisite detail made me feel I was there with the narrator in the spaces - the homes that still contain the possessions of his parents who are no longer living, or his friend Earl's collection of movies, books and music.  There is a sense of loss and nostalgia and longing that is woven throughout -- and because it was so visually descriptive I could see a movie being made from this, albeit with a slow, lingering pace such as early Terrance Davies or Gus Van Sant.  It is an incredible reflection on growing older and being lonely and observing other lives (there are great passages of the narrator walking down streets looking at TV lights flickering through a window or Christmas displays.) This book is also about being gay in conservative Florida and how to navigate being oneself vs. being in the closet.  A beautiful book and I highly recommend it. I just bought some of the author's previous books and look forward to reading them. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giraux for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Another well chronicled, memoir like novel by Andrew Holleran. His keen eye and the beauty of his prose explores gay life, the fears of aging and the realities of dying alone. As a mound of sand can slowly diminish over time, we learn of a path well traveled, his parents, friends, sexual identities, AIDS, medical diagnoses, death and the shame and often guilt associated with the wants and needs to eliminate (if only temporarily), the loneliness.
Set in rural Florida, the recollection of time, places and people is a travelogue of tenderness and desire. Holleran’s novels are consistently recommended reads and The Kingdom of Sand is no exception.
Thank you NetGalley, the author and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for an ARC in exchange for an honest book review.
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From the first 10%, I’ve found there’s seemingly no plot, but it meanders along at a comfortable speed and it just brings the reader with it. It feels like a very niche book, but as we are located in Florida, a lot of the humor should be especially relevant. It should go over well with our patrons. Should be an easy 4-5 stars for the right readers. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the ARC.
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So, been thinking about this book for several days.
Extremely well written,and though a novel, essentially a series of short stories.
The narrator is nameless and the setting is Northern Florida, a region I am well acquainted with.
He is gay, childless, late middle aged but still sexually active,but loneliness, and his fear of becoming ill and dying alone,are his overwhelming fears and the central themes recurring throughout the book.
His lone friend in town-Earl- another gay man 20 years older are not sexually involved but share a love of books and movies.
In vivid and all too realistic fashion he takes us through Earl’s inevitable decline and ultimate demise.
At times funny-when he gets skin cancers he is astonished “ after all the broccoli I’ve eaten”, and “ who do I call when I need to go for a colonoscopy”-but overall achingly sad-both in terms of the decline in the community, the decline in the house he lives in( his dead parents house, and his own life.
There are innumerable references to how other famous people faced the end(Tolstoy and  Chekhov, for example) but I was reminded of a quote from Schopenhauer” at the end all of us are and remain alone”.
Ive thought and rethought the final chapter, dealing with the clerk and the pharmacist in the Wahlgreens and his attraction to them. My interpretation: life is precious and short, so make the most of it.
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I absolutely loved this book. I must have highlighted a dozen sentences or paragraphs about aging that I want to remember. Holleran captures shat it's like to age and eventually pass away as a solitary human being as well as anyone I've ever read. Kudos.
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Reminiscent of Philip Roth’s later novels, Kingdom of Sand, is certainly bleak, but so honest and darkly comic, full of sharp observations about growing old, and loneliness, and that lingering lust for the young that endures. Holleran has been for decades a writer of immense talent. (And he fucking nails Florida).
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The narrator a middle age gay man that lives in a small town in Florida, is trying to pickup the pieces of his life after losing his parents. He is living alone now, in the same house that he used to share with them, but the place is falling apart and he doesn't seem to have the energy to do something about it. He reflects on aging and decadence and some other painful topics like who is going to be by his side when his time comes. Now, his good friend Earl is dying and his slow deterioration leads him to rethink his own life and the bonds he has formed throughout it.
The book is on the slow side and nothing really happens in terms of action. The descriptions are at some point tedious but I think that it contributes to build a dense and slow atmosphere that is attuned to the protagonist foggy state of mind. He seems to be in perpetual grief, for the past and for the things to come.
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Delighted to include this title in ‘The Rainbow Connection,’ my latest round-up for Zoomer magazine’s Books section highlighting new and notable books for Pride (see mini-review at link)
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This book is a beautiful and sensitive portrayal of love and loss, and a mourning for a past time.

Our narrator circles through their thoughts, reflecting on the glitzy heyday of gay life in the 70s and 80s, but also looking at it with the wisdom of age, realising what- and who- have been lost.

He looks after another man, a man who is quietly seeing out his final days, and in doing so, provides a haunting and beautiful portrait of the endurance of love and care, even amongst the harshest backdrops.

I received an advanced copy of the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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THE KINGDOM OF SAND by Andrew Holleran (2022)

This follows an aging gay man in small-town Florida as he reflects on his lonely life and the small world he has created for himself. It is particularly focused on the impending reality of death: both of his parents are long-dead, and his close friend, a gay man 20 years his senior, has semi-recently died after a long illness. Single and childless, he fears what awaits him.

In many ways this novel is similar to THE BEAUTY OF MEN, which I read last year: the setting, the exploration of gay men who no longer have the asset of youth, the preoccupation with death. But that novel was very focused on the main character’s survival of the AIDS crisis amidst the death of many of his friends, while this novel is much more mundane. (Indeed, dying is presented as a long and banal process.) AIDS is only mentioned a handful of times and is not a preoccupation of the narrator. He is vain, health-conscious, mostly closeted; his life is structured by shame; fear of judgment; and capitulation to what other people think. His life is made up of small, fleeting intimacies. As he remarks, “One can make a life around almost any set of circumstances.” He has accepted his circumstances, reluctantly settling in Florida after an exciting youth in New York. Ultimately I think THE BEAUTY OF MEN expired similar themes in a more compelling way, but this is still worth a read. Holleran skilfully builds a pitiful character, the flip side to the hedonists he depicted in his debut DANCER FROM THE DANCE.
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I was fascinated by the idea of a new, contemporary Andrew Holleran novel. Dancer From the Dance, his classic gay tale of emptiness and community in the 1970s gay underground of New York City, is a defining piece of LGBTQ literature. It is inherently tied to its time and place, which may make it difficult for younger readers to access. What, I wondered, would Holleran bring to a more contemporary landscape?

In many ways, The Kingdom of Sand feels like a companion to Dancer From the Dance. Its protagonist could easily be one of the background players in Holleran's former novel (indeed, he mentions partying in New York City in the 1970s). Unlike Dancer From the Dance, though, this book isn't training its eye on what it is to be gay at this point in time. Instead, Holleran is focusing almost exclusively on aging and death. His narrator is obsessed with the knowledge that he is nearing old age, decline, and death. The Kingdom of Sand is, essentially, his musings on this subject. 

While Holleran leads the reader through heavy thought on life and death and has many well-considered ideas to get across, the book ultimately felt hollow to me. It doesn't have a form or plot. Novels don't necessarily need to have those, of course, but The Kingdom of Sand feels more like listening to a close friend of yours tirelessly pick at the same scab every time you run into them. Eventually, your patience begins to wear thin. 

Part of my frustration is probably because I really wanted Holleran to think more about what it is to be an elderly gay man today. What is it like to have been alive and out before AIDS, to have miraculously survived when so many didn't, and to find yourself in a new age of Grindr and marriage equality when you are no longer (strictly speaking, of course) young enough to enjoy them? The Kingdom of Sand only glances at these topics. It never has anything coherent or intelligent to say about them. 

I confess I lost interest roughly 60% of the way into this novel, but I told myself to hang in until the end because I was willing to believe that Holleran would tie everything together in a meaningful, impactful way. I believed these musings on life, death, and the indignities of declining health would come to a crucial point. Unfortunately, they don't. Turns out, the point is more that there aren't answers: it is what it is. While that sentiment is true, it doesn't feel revelatory. So while there are occasionally some staggering lines (“Love and kindness have a lineage their recipients know nothing about"), The KIngdom of Sand, for me, ultimately feels like an interesting journey that doesn't lead anywhere.
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This is a story about loneliness.  It is told from the perspective of a nameless narrator, a gay man, who moves to a small town in Florida to take care of his aging parents.  Even after his parents pass away, the narrator finds he cannot leave the small town where his parents spent their retirement, despite his few and diminishing connections there.  

The narrator's central and most frequent connection becomes Earl, a gay man twenty years his senior.  The two most often spend time together at Earl's home, listening to Earl's large collection of records and watching his favorite old movies. Earl in many ways has a fuller life than the narrator, and the narrator frequently finds himself questioning his role in Earl's life.  But when Earl's health begins to fail, the narrator must confront his own mortality, the choices he made, and what his life will be like when this last connection to the place he made his home for so much of his adult life is gone.  

This is a powerful story.  It is in many ways a sad story, as the narrator explores his regrets as he faces the twilight of his life -- regrets that alternatively seem attributable to his own choices and to the way society pushes many people, especially toward the end of their lives, toward isolation of different sorts.  It offers interesting insights into aging; love, friendship, and other types of conenction; the nature of loneliness; what we owe each other; and the similarities and differences in the experiences of different generations of gay men.  This is one that you will be thinking about long after you put it down.

Highly recommended!
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I wanted to like this book so much like really wanted to, because Holleran is one of those early LGBT authors whose work has stood the test of time for decades. And that's why I requested a copy from NetGalley.*

What I didn't expect was how similar to Mrs. Dalloway and A Single Man this would be. I think that bodes well for the longevity of the novel, but unfortunately, for me, it wasn't the time or place to read it to truly appreciate or enjoy it. While there were some incredibly beautiful passages throughout, I struggled to get into the book and (for the most part) identify with the nameless narrator.

The two biggest problems for me were the incredibly long fifth chapter, "Hurricane Weather", and the repetitive ramblings of the narrator. I get why the fifth chapter was so long, but why call it hurricane weather when the book is set post-hurricane season and doesn't have any flashbacks or references to hurricanes. Maybe Holleran was connecting the chaos of aging and losing friends and family and the neighborhood changing around the narrator, but the connection was tenuous at best. As for the ramblings, I 100% get why those are there. If you've ever had a conversation with our grandparents or any older person, you know about the circles they talk in and revisiting old stories, but oof it was rough on me. I was convinced I'd read some passages three or four times, but when I went back I'd find similar passages which at least confirmed I wasn't totally crazy.

The best part of the novel was the narrator's various discussions of death and moving on, which was ironic as he never moved on from his parents' deaths and basically lived in a tomb dedicated to them rather than moving forward with the life that he'd put on hold in the mid-1980s. I liked the observational quality of how he talked about the neighbors and how their children handled their aging and ultimate deaths and the way his friends prepared for it as they all aged, or even how his best friend, Earl, did/didn't prepare for death.

Holleran's writing of older gay characters was incredibly interesting to read. From how they got off at local video stores and boat docks, to the nameless narrator's obsession with the store clerk and pharmacist at Walgreens, you got a true feel for the isolation of being an elderly gay man of a different generation that wasn't interested in apps or, perhaps even a relationship, and lived solely for the anonymous occasional getting off and observational qualities of existing and pining from afar without disrupting the dream/imaginary relationships he cherished.

Recommendation: I think there is a lot of worth in this novel. Holleran is a part of a generation of LGBT authors and survivors that are slowly dying out of old age and by setting his novel firmly within that generation in this period he's presented a protagonist we don't see very often in pop culture. He doesn't edit or cut out aspects that were crucial to gay men in the 70s and 80s and have continued to trail (if lessen) over the decades and he writes frankly about the end of life of parents, friends, and self. As I was reading I was simultaneously frustrated and impressed with the minutia of the book and the grand sweeping observations Holleran made, but ultimately this one wasn't for me.

*I received a copy of The Kingdom of Sand via NetGalley in return for my honest opinion. No goods or money were exchanged.
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In one of my recent reviews (Robert Ferro’s novel ‘Second Son’, first published right before Ferro’s death in 1988), I mentioned that I suspected one of the secondary characters, a middle-aged man living in Florida where he’s taking care of his ailing mother, was modelled after Andrew Holleran, famous “veteran” writer of gay literature, author of ‘Dancer from the Dance’ and ‘Nights in Aruba’, amongst other books, and like Fero member of the illustrious Violet Quill. Now, I could be mistaken, but I also suspect that the nameless narrator of this book is modelled after its author Andrew Holleran himself—like Holleran, he was born and spent his childhood on a Carribean island (Aruba in Holleran’s case), after all. There’s also Felice Picano’s probable roman à clef 'The Book of Lies' (Picano was another member of the Violet Quill), where he talks about the group, thinly veiled behind the name The Purple Circle, and where one of the surviving members is living a recluse’s life in rural Florida, like the narrator of ‘The Kingdom of Sand’. But as I said, I could be mistaken; moreover, Holleran is known for being very protective of his private sphere, so let’s not roam off into the kingdom of speculation.
 
No, let’s remain in the ‘Kingdom of Sand’. This is the story of an ageing (dare I say: old?) gay man, single apparently because he chose to be, of no known profession, with only a handful of friends he’s not too close to and a peaceful, some would say rather dull life, a bit as if he had already forsaken any attempt at a real, active life. “I’d hidden myself away from life and everything that made it brutal,” he mentions at one moment. He’s living in his late parents’ house in northern Florida, somewhere between Gainesville and Keystone Heights if I remember correctly. To be honest, out of sheer curiosity, I google-earthed the region, and on my 21—inch screen it looked much less dreary than it sounded in Holleran’s prose. In fact, the narrator has an intriguing take on things, in turns charmed like a child, then weary like someone who’s already spent too much time on this earth.
 
It’s rather hard to summarize the plot because how can you sum up something that isn’t there? Not “isn’t there” in the sense of an absence, but in the sense of tiny, tricky, slippery grains of sand that simply trickle between your fingers when you try to scoop them up. All you can do is throw them into the wind and enjoy their golden sparkle in the sun. It’s substance without weight, or rather without anyting weighing anything down. In this book, the narrator seemingly starts rambling on page one, recalling memories triggered by trinkets in his house, say, or a chance encounter, or the odd thought while he’s going for a stroll, and continues rambling till the last full stop. Yet what at first glance appears as the streaming digressions of a (bitter? not so sure…) old man has a sort of logic, a sort of consistency, the coherence of someone who projects the image of being happy to be by himself yet who needs this exercice to keep at bay “the silence of spiders spinning webs,” as he says.
 
Often, and quite naturally, too, these long excursuses that sometimes go in circles deal with the subjects of getting old, namely getting old as a single gay man, and of death. The narrator’s father died in the house, his mother in a care unit after a fall down some stairs that left her paralyzed. His closest friend Earl (probably not his best friend, and even the word “closest” has to be seen as a geographical indication rather than one of emotional bonding) is getting old and older before his very eyes, and the narrator observes his increasing “decrepitude” in fascinated, minute detail: the fight, the defiance, the anger at first: “Perhaps that’s what death is as far as the person dying is concerned: a supreme insult to the ego, a narcissistic wound beyond compare—Hitler in his bunker.” Then the fatigue, the lowering of one’s arms, the searching for armistice, the silent pleading to have just a couple of days more, and if possible without too much pain. And finally, the give-up, the tidying of one’s life and possessions (“The most considerate thing we can do when we get old is to clean things up so that others don’t have to after we croak”), the corpse-like acceptance that precludes the inescapable end.
 
If this sounds bleak and dry, boring and depressing, you haven’t read the book. Because despite the narrator’s growing misanthropy, he remains a helluva lucid man who observes the world he lives in—a small, small world indeed, yet one that reflects the big World outside, the one with the capital W—with wry humor and the prophetic sense that all the ailings and deaths he witnesses will one day be his lot, too. Most importantly, however, and here we go from the story to the teller, from the narrator to his (I still think probable) muse and model: the author. Andrew Holleran, who knows how to write, knows how to craft a beautiful sentence and does it not only for a beautiful result, form-wise, but also to fill it with deep meaning. In other words, this book, and I expected no less, was skilfully written, with a fluid, handsome quill, where words flow into each other to not only create sense, make a story emerge, but also to create atmosphere(s).
 
My personal recommendation for this book is sincere and firm. Andrew Holleran has brought me closer to the gay youth of the 70s (my birth decade) in ‘Dancer from the Dance’, one of the first gay novels I ever read. Here, Holleran has shown me what could await me in my older years (although, the gods willing if they exist, I’ll still be with my hubbie), and he has done so brilliantly, a master of evocative language and atmosphere.
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The first book by Andrew Holleran in sixteen years is an exquisite meditation on growing older and coming to term with the end of life. Holleran, who is now in his late seventies is from a generation of gay writers like Larry Kramer and Paul Monette. Literary heavyweights in the canon of LGBTQ lit, most of whom have now since passed from AIDS.
#KingdomOfSand feels like a continuation or maybe more an extension of his previous works, the closest being #TheBeautyOfMen which like this book took place in the authors home state of Florida and dealt with an aging gay man who has come home to take care of his dying mother. 
This time Holleran presents an unnamed narrator who for the bulk of the book talks about his relationship with one of his neighbors, also a gay man who is twenty years older. “By the time Earl was in his eighties and I was in my sixties there were evenings when I walked home from the movie wondering if my interest in him was slightly sadistic: watching what happened when old age gets its claws in you, or at least puts you to sleep in your chair, like a man overcome with carbon monoxide in a closed garage.” 

His musings on life, on loneliness and the tenuous connections we keep with one another to stave off the isolation of existing on an metaphoric island by yourself reminded me of alot Elizabeth Strout, both in her sense of humor but also in her deep empathy and understanding of the human animal. Holleran has that too, capturing so many elements of the march of time including the loss of your parents as well as the being alone as you get older, and all of the potential complications that can arise. 

I thought this was an exceptional piece of literature that almost feels like it could be autofiction. It’s measured and thoughtful in its pace, and that’s exactly what it should be as he metes  out plenty to ponder. Thanks to @fsgbooks and @netgallay for the advance reader copy.
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We are so lucky to have Andrew Holleran back, and his first book in many years doesn't disappoint! Another gay classic
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This is an impactful novel.  It explores the life of an unnamed narrator who returns to the small town where his parents retired to take care of them as they begin to decline.  Even after his parents pass away, the narrator stays in the town despite few strong relationships there.  The novel explores what it means to grow old in a place where one has such few connections or attachments, particularly as those few connections begin to fade away.  It also examines what home means, and the way that a place where one never expected to end up becomes central to one's life and even their identity.  

This book is a thoughtful examination of aging, death, love, family, and friendship, and the ways one's life does and does not meet expectations.

Highly recommended!
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This is a melancholy meditation on age and loneliness.  There isn't very much of.a plot, not a linear one anyway, but the nameless narrator has some fascinating and true observations to offer on so many subjects, most notably getting, let's face it. old.  The Florida setting is terrific and palpable.  The narrator's relationship with Earl, who is 20 years older and about to slip away feels as though it's something Holleran himself has experienced.  Lest you put this aside thinking it will be dreary, know that the narrator also has a wicked sense of humor.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  A good read.
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“At such moments I felt completely content; I’d hidden myself away from life and everything that made it brutal.”

THE KINGDOM OF SAND is a tale of loneliness, friendship, grief, and death. It’s a powerful character study that unveils its secrets slowly, and in surprising ways. Little details that at first sight may seem unimportant will appear over and over again in the story, which gives it a conversational quality.

It’s a book that requires a little bit of patience, but it’s worth it. You should hold off on reading this book if you’re looking for something that’s fast-paced and packed with twists and turns.

This book reminded me of SECOND PLACE by Rachel Cusk, and even a little bit A MAN CALLED OVE, but gayer.
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Unfortunately not a style of writing I am a fan of. I'm glad to have read it, but I wouldn't recommend - far too slow and ponderous for my taste.
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