In his 2006 novel, Hard, Wayne Hoffman presented a gay 1990s Manhattan struggling to strike a balance between ''safer sex'' and ''sex positive.'' With his new novel, Sweet Like Sugar, Hoffman presents a more intimate – though far less explicit – tale, as young, gay Benji and elderly widower Rabbi Jacob Zuckerman find common ground in their humanity.
''Hard is much less autobiographical, but with so many real details,'' Hoffman says of his earlier novel, whose setting is familiar to nearly anyone who can decode the ACT-UP acronym. ''In Sweet Like Sugar, there are no actual events I'm drawing on, no overarching news hook. There were fewer existing pegs to hang the narrative on. It was more difficult in a creative way.''
While Sweet may not parallel ''actual events,'' locals will recognize plenty in the setting of D.C. and suburban Montgomery County, where Hoffman, now a New Yorker, was raised. To set just the right tone, he pulled on particular qualities of the landscape of his youth.
''I wanted it to be a suburban setting that was largely Orthodox, but not exclusively Orthodox,'' he says of Montgomery County. ''There are not many of those if country. And there's no reason Benji would work in Muncie.''
Hoffman will soon be joining his fictional Benji, both in the District and near the upper ends of the Red Line. He'll read a selection of Sweet for Congregation Bet Mishpachah Friday, Sept. 16, then at the Bethesda Barnes & Noble. In November, he's planning to read a selection at his childhood synagogue.
''I'm very excited. It's simultaneously a homecoming, but it's also a foreign place because I haven't gone there in 20 years,'' Hoffman says of that upcoming visit. ''I've been working in the Jewish press almost a decade. That's the place where I can fit. I'm never going to be a synagogue kind of guy. My brother's a rabbi – he goes to synagogue enough for both of us.''
Wayne Hoffman reads from Sweet Like Sugar, Sunday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m., at Barnes & Noble, 4801 Bethesda Ave. For more information, visit waynehoffmanwriter.com.