by Ricardo Ramos
Published by iUniverse
Published June 10, 2002
196 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
June 24, 2002.
Searching for the Key (2002), Ricardo Ramos’s second novel, is about a triangle.
The story is told in alternating diaries of the two men. Originally from the Midwest and conventionally contemptuous of homosexuals, Tod is a database manager for a company somewhere on the San Francisco peninsula. Ikuko, his third-generation (Sansei) Japanese-American wife works with a Filipino-American (also third-generation, I think) gay man named Ramon. She accepts a dinner invitation from him. Bored by the shop talk and uneasy with a gay host, Tod has too much to drink…
The next morning Tod wakes up—alone and nude—in Ramon’s bed. He wonders why Ikukuo left him there, for how long, and (most of all) what happened after he passed out. Both Ramon and Tod wonder if Ikuko is throwing her husband at Ramon. And if she is, why? To make him more adventurous for her own pleasures? Because she wants to discard him and arrange a successor for herself? Because she suspects he is really gay? Etc.
Their diaries sort through evidence for various interpretations of Ikukuo’s motivation and document the florescence of a relationship between Tod and Ramon. Ramon already knows, but is reminded by his sister: “Don’t mess with married men. They are certain to bring heartache.” And Tod is alarmed to find that he enjoys sex with an “obvious fag” when not under the influence (/excuse) of alcohol.
With two inter-racial relationships, and experiences of a new (to him) sexuality, Tod muses more than Ramon, who takes for granted having inter-racial sexual relationships and his at least somewhat stigmatized status as a Filipino and as a gay man. The exogamy that concerns Ramon is not the Filipino-Anglo one, but the gay-straight one. Ramon does not consider himself a “home-wrecker,” but he fears he will fall in love and be dumped when Tod’s “phase” of experimentation ends so returns to his wife. Or, if Tod is someone Ramon is “bring out” into gay life, Ramon knows that the original guide is always left behind. He tries to tell himself: “Enjoy the moment and don’t expect to live happily ever after. Don’t fall in love. Don’t fall in love. Don’t fall in love.” But it is so hard to take good advice, even what one recognizes is sound advice…
Like Ramos’s first novel, Flipping, Searching for the Key explores the eroticized racial differences. As in other books by gay Americans of Asian or Pacific Island origins or ancestry, the Filipino narrator here (Ramon) somewhat distrusts “white boys” (“boy” signifying not age but naiveté and manipulability) who are attracted to him, though he does not see anything problematic in his own attraction for white men. Tod does not seem conscious of desiring persons (male and female) of a different race, though he is interested in how Asian/Pacific Islander Americans feel about the stereotypes and resentments they encounter.
Being a sociologist interested in the diversity of gay experiences, I am afraid that I have made this often very funny novel sound like a treatise on inter-racial sexual relationships. “Boys just want to have fun”—and they do. Ramon is more aware of the absurdities of love and desire than Tod. Tod is somewhat plodding, but he is in waters more alien to his background than is Ramon and has to “work through” some matters Ramon cannot remember caring about. And understanding what Ikuko is up to is obviously more important to Tod than to Ramon.
As author Ricardo Ramos said in my interview with him, sex is how many gay men get to know each other, Gay novels “often move from consummation—either on to other consummations or to relationships in which the sexual dynamics continue to be important” to trust and self image.
There is much explicit (homo- and hetero-) sex in Searching for the Key, though with considerably fewer partners than the narrators of Flipping had. Ramon is not as politically incorrect as Napoleon (the first and most sustained narrator in Flipping) was, though he is similarly breezily matter-of-fact about a sexuality that makes many uncomfortable.
originally published by epinions, 24 June 2002
©2002, 2016, Stephen O. Murray