Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland, ME - September 22, 2002

By Nancy Grape

In a world of hate, looking for a love that transcends it

Novelists are strange creatures. They walk among us, smile and talk, plant gardens, go swimming, eat blueberry pie. Yet they see and experience life from an inner perspective that eventually shapes all they see, hear and do into works of fiction.

So it is with Robert Taylor of Blue Hill. Out of Vietnam, Taylor, a Bronze Star-winning Army captain, shaped "The Innocent," an indelible first novel about what it means to face war and to face life as a gay man.

Now, with his second novel, "All We Have Is Now," Taylor brings that theme home, to an America where being a gay man can trigger violence of an equally deadly kind.

"All We Have Is Now" begins in resignation and sadness. The hero, middle-aged Ian McBride, is a leading actor in a Washington, D.C., repertory company. His professional life is a colorful success, culminating in the great heroes of Shakespearean tragedies. His personal life, by contrast, plays out on a gray landscape. McBride has endured 12 years without emotional attachment after the long, lingering death of a lover with whom he had built a life.

The last thing the still-bereft actor seeks is a new commitment. Yet that is what he finds when, rehearsing his role as Prospero in "The Tempest," he meets 25-year-old Jimmy Davidson, "a slender young man with a smooth, just-past-boyish face - too pretty to really be called handsome, too handsome to be no more than pretty" - who is to be the play's Ariel.

Perceptive, loving and kind, Jimmy becomes McBride's personal Ariel as well. And love and color return to the actor's life. The joy, however, is short-lived, its end set in motion by Jimmy's casual decision to return to his home town of Kimberley, Texas, to celebrate his mother's 50th birthday. There, after an innocent evening alone at the movies, Jimmy is stalked and savagely beaten to death. "Some kind of a hate crime," a Washington Post reporter says.

And so it is. Like real-life Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., hung on a fence and left to die four years ago, Jimmy has died for smiling, for being friendly and for being gay.

It is that world of hate and of love that can transcend it that Taylor uses "All We Have Is Now" to explore.

"Hardest of all was the guilt," McBride, our narrator, tells us. "All the time Jimmy was being beaten, lying unconscious, fighting for his life, I 'd had no idea. Had gone blissfully on with my own life, as though nothing so unspeakable could be happening in the world. My world."

McBride takes his sorrow and anger to Texas for Jimmy's funeral and the resulting trial. There he encounters a family pierced by grief but deeply reluctant to confront the sexual reality of their son and brother. Only one person steps forward to embrace that reality, Jimmy's grandmother, Livie. Aided by her, McBride will move through anger to understanding, and Jimmy's family will complete an emotional journey all its own.

Along the way, the chain of hate that links so-called "hate crimes" from Wyoming to Texas to Maine will be broken and lose at least some of the power to reforge itself.

No small achievement that. No small novel this.

Nancy Grape of Freeport is an editorial columnist for the Maine Sunday Telegram.