The Kingdom of Sand is a novel about ageing, friendship, and sex, as an unnamed narrator, an older gay man living in rural Florida, reflects on his past and present. Told in episodes, including a central one about the slow death of a close friend, the narrator considers his position in the world: living alone in the house his parents bought, having to go to his sister’s for the holidays because he doesn’t want to tell her he’d rather be alone, visiting cruising spots, and remembering the past, parties in New York and AIDS and how he ended up staying in Florida.
This is a highly readable book that I felt drawn into, with some initial shorter sections and then a much longer section in the middle that focuses on the narrator’s older friend who is dying, and their shared love of movies. The book reflects a lot on ageing as a gay man in America, especially in terms of loneliness and connections, but also on knowing and supporting people who are ill and dealing with what you are left with when people die. That does make it pretty melancholy, but it’s not entirely tragic, and the narrator’s ways of fitting in and around the world in which he lives, even as it changes, brings a perspective that is complex and contemplative.
I can’t think of many other books that explore the lives, friendships, and sex of older gay men, and this one brings to life not only the protagonist, but the Florida setting as well, exploring a place known for old people and retirement. I’m not always one for books made of different length ‘episodes’ rather than a single plot, but I found this one easy to get into thanks to the writing style and perspective.