In the City of Shy Hunters

“A master narrator and stylist… In the City of Shy Hunters is so finely crafted, Spanbauer’s characters so true to life, the New York City he remembers from the early days of the plague so exactly captured in its ‘unrelenting’ mess and glory, you’ll think you’ve been reading a modernist classic.”

– Peter Kurth,


In the City of Shy Hunters is a ‘rich and colorful’ portrait of New York in the 1980's told with ’raw power’ (David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle). Shy, afflicted with a stutter, and struggling with is sexuality, Will Parker comes to New York to escape the provincial western towns where he grew up. In New York, he finds himself surrounded for the first time by people who understand and celebrate his quirks and flaws. He also begins an unforgettable love affair with a volatile, six-foot five-inch African-American drag queen and performance artist named Rose. But even as he is falling in love with Rose and learning to accept himself, Will must watch as AIDS grows from a rumor into a devastating tragedy, decimating his friends and acquaintances. When a vicious riot erupts in a local park, Will seizes the chance to repay the city for all it has taught him, in a climax that will leave readers shaken, fulfilled, and changed.

Editorial Reviews

An expertly drawn, starkly authentic, early-1980s Manhattan provides the setting for this sprawling novel by Spanbauer (The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon). It tells the story of Will Parker, a young man from Jackson Hole, Wyo., who comes to the "Wolf Swamp" of New York in search of his boyhood first love, Charlie. After Will secures a seedy apartment, a bevy of tough, typecast but blissfully genuine New Yorkers immediately materialize. Among them are drug-addled Ruby and his Indian sidekick, True Shot; Fiona, the tenacious waitress who robustly trains Will at his new restaurant job; and "Shakespearean drag queen" and upstairs neighbor Rose, with whom he falls in love. But while dramatic temperaments and sequined wardrobes are being sorted out, AIDS, gay fiction's great leveler, has already begun claiming victims. Spanbauer's rapid-fire narration and clipped sentences generate a surprising amount of tension and gritty emotion, as does his vibrant, dead-on dialogue and keen sense of place. The high points come along the trajectory of Will's awakening sense of self, first when Rose drags him to his first Gay Pride parade and then, as years pass and the plague intensifies, when he witnesses the sudden death of friends. This is a big, brazen, histrionic work of fiction, one that pays respectable, if unsentimental, homage to a devastating period in gay history.

– Publishers Weekly


One can't help being leery of this latest work from Spanbauer (The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon, LJ 10/1/91). Is it just another AIDS story concerning the early plague years? But after a few pages one realizes that it is not. Will Parker moves from Idaho to Manhattan in search of himself and his childhood best friend (and first sexual partner). Will isn't dumb, but he isn't educated either, and he lands a crummy job as a waiter and an even worse apartment. His new family of friends more than make up for this, and Will sets out to find out about life. Just as everything seems to be settling into something comfortable, he begins to lose friends and co-workers to drugs and AIDS. Unlike other "early AIDS" novels, this one acknowledges that AIDS touches all classes, races, religions, and sexual orientations. Excellent characters (real New Yorkers), great writing, and a new twist on an over-used plot recommend this book for most libraries, though some readers might want a more conventional ending. 

T.R. Salvadori, Margaret E. Heggan Free P.L.,Library Journal


“A master narrator and stylist… In the City of Shy Hunters is so finely crafted, Spanbauer’s characters so true to life, the New York City he remembers from the early days of the plague so exactly captured in its ‘unrelenting’ mess and glory, you’ll think you’ve been reading a modernist classic.”

– Peter Kurth,


“Spanbauer’s genius resides even in the asides… teasing out the genuine complexity of human love.”

– Thomas McGonigle, The Washington Post


“In the City of Shy Hunters has the earmarks of a literary landmark…Its importance and originality are unmistakable.”

– Laura Demanski, The Baltimore Sun


“Ambitious and compelling…a mixture of the ghastly, the hilarious and the curiously touching.”

– John Hartl, The Seattle Times


In the City of Shy Hunters is a chronicle of deaths foretold, a journal of the plague years when AIDS swept through the city and destroyed a culture that had barely taken hold.”

– Jeff Baker, The Oregonian


“Tom Spanbauer breaks all the rules in his new novel In the City of Shy Hunters–rules of grammar, rules of social propriety, rules of sanctioned sexuality, rules that keep a novelist at a desk, on a page, in the real world.”

– M. L. Lyke, Seattle Post-Intelligencer


“Mesmerizing dialogue and gritty characters immediately startle you…The book may consist of letters typed upon a page, but those words transcend mere storytelling by nearly leaping forth and materializing into a stunning theatrical presentation. This writing as performance art...Our beloved Spanbauer has retaken center stage. He has surpassed the art of writing dangerously to create the theater of writing dramatically.”

–Susan Wickstorm, Willamette Week


“A big ambitious stylefest of a novel, in the mode of…Edmund White’sThe Farewell Symphony, Allan Gurganus’s Plays well with Others, and Dale Peak’s Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye…What distinguishes Spanbauer’s novel from the rest of the pack is his hellish, distinctive voice. Longtime fans will recognize its unusual sentences, at once choppy and strangely elegant, overtly informative but weirdly surreal, tender of phrase yet cleansed of overt emotion.”

– Dennis Cooper, The Village Voice


In the City of Shy Hunters is near-epic in its emotional scope, a sprawling story that recalls at once the freewheeling black comedy of Ken Kesey’s work, the spiritual quest at the heart of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and some of the precise diction of Gertrude Stein…There is such a myriad of small truths here that the cumulative effect is overwhelming…Fascinating and compelling.”

– Ken Furtado, Lambda Book Report