Whether or not author Lance Reynald wants to admit it, Pop Salvation is a gay coming-of-age novel. The book's protagonist, Caleb, is a shy gay teen, an isolated outcast in the conservative Georgetown of the 1980s. To escape himself, he transforms into a knock-off of his idol, Andy Warhol. He shoots short films with a Factory of estranged day-schoolers. They discover The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and find a second home in the midnight world of sweet transvestites, queers, and freaks.
Caleb's classmate Aaron is his best friend and creative muse. Forces of taboo and insecurity create a tense, trickling relationship between the two, driving the novel and ultimately providing its saving grace.
Reynald writes from the perspective of an older Caleb, in a style that respects the slow progression of Caleb's self-awareness through the years. Like a viewer of art, Caleb first observes his own actions, and then picks them apart for meaning, and Reynald's descriptions of Caleb's emotions and their manifestations seem truthful to their place and time. However, Caleb's delivery is often stiff and oversimplified. In describing his bond to Aaron he says, "I knew the feelings were another thing that made me not normal. I didn't want to be so different."
While a balance of action and introspection keeps Caleb and Aaron's characters afloat, the secondary players don't benefit from the same development. Caleb says of his father and stepmother's view of Christmas, "It had no more meaning to them than the engraved cards they sent to their list of the who's who of Washington society." Yikes.
Reynald's exploration of what art means to Caleb is multifaceted. It's more than private expression. It's both escape from himself and immersion in his strongest desire. These emotions are completely intertwined with his sexuality, yet Caleb never addresses his gayness directly. It only comes out in terms of his feelings for Aaron. Just like art is the realization of ideas through objects, "gay" has no meaning for Caleb without Aaron. Call it a story about the meaning of art, but without a subject (homosexuality), it's got no reason and no home. Pop Salvation examines gay adolescence through an interesting new lens, but for me at least, it's that subject that makes it worthwhile.