he nameless narrator is a gay man who moved to Florida to look after his aging parents—during the height of the AIDS epidemic—and has found himself unable to leave after their deaths. With gallows humor, he chronicles the indignities of growing old in a small town. At the heart of the novel is the story of his friendship with Earl, whom he met cruising at the local boat ramp. For the last twenty years, he has been visiting Earl to watch classic films together and critique the neighbors. Earl is the only person in town with whom he can truly be himself. Now Earl's health is failing, and our increasingly misanthropic narrator must contend with the fact that once Earl dies, he will be completely alone. He distracts himself with sexual encounters at the video porn store and visits to Walgreens. All the while, he shares reflections on illness and death that are at once funny and heartbreaking.
We lose track of where we are in time, which results in disorienting contradictions and ambiguities ... Avoidance of narrative tension comes to seem laborious, particularly when the elements of a compelling plot rise into view ... There are the makings here of a melodrama like the ones that Earl and the narrator enjoy watching. But these elements remain inert. Narrative is ordinarily created by the disruption of a status quo; Holleran seems to want a novel that is all status quo, no disruption. We are left with what he has called, in an essay, 'the actual dull reality of life' ... Holleran is unusually frank about the continuing toll of queer shame, even in a liberated age ... Even as I value Holleran’s candor, and his refusal of triumphalist narratives of queer affirmation—sometimes it doesn’t get better, or not for everyone—these moments are painful to read.
In this melancholy world that Holleran creates with such stoic accuracy and sad acceptance, nothing happens — except that time passes. This, really, is Holleran’s great subject. He is interested in the rhythms of days and the rhythms of the natural world around him and the texture of what gets lost with the years ... The isolation, the long solitary walks taken, allow the writer to look outward, to examine the changing day closely and meticulously, to study a close-knit world, thus building up a complete picture not only of the surroundings but of how time moves in a single place ... Holleran is witty at times, and aphoristic ... His new novel is all the more affecting and engaging because the images of isolation and old age here are haunted — or seem more honest and serious — because in 1978 Holleran wrote the quintessential novel about gay abandon, the sheer, careless pleasure of it: Dancer From the Dance. Now, at almost 80 years of age, he has produced a novel remarkable for its integrity, for its readiness to embrace difficult truths and for its complex way of paying homage to the passing of time.
... quiet resolve, an exquisite eye for observation and (on the debit side) a slight habit of repetition ... There is a strange and urgent life force in The Kingdom of Sand, deriving from its delight in faithful description, that is inseparable from its inherent melancholy. And though it requires a little more patience than other books by Mr. Holleran, it builds to an amazing emotional pitch. The final chapter is either the saddest thing this author has ever written or the most subversively joyful—no small accomplishment whatever the case.