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Four Squares

Read by David Pittu
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On sale Jun 18, 2024 | 9 Hours and 22 Minutes | 9780593865156
From the beloved author of The Old Place comes a tender, funny, and fresh novel about a gay writer in New York City whose life is irrevocably altered, and then again thirty years later.

In 1992, on his thirtieth birthday, Artie Anderson meets the man who will change his life. Artie spends his days at a tedious advertising job, finding relief in the corner of New York City he can call his own, even as the queer community is still being ravaged by HIV. But when his birthday celebration brings Artie and his friends to his favorite bar, a chance encounter with Abe, an uptight lawyer and Artie’s opposite in almost every way, pushes Artie to want, and to ask for, more for himself.

Thirty years later, Artie is stunned when Halle and Vanessa, Abe’s daughter and ex-wife, announce they are moving across the country. Artie has built a lovely, if small, life, but their departure makes Artie realize that he might be lonelier than he previously thought. When a surprising injury pushes Artie into the hands of GALS, the local center for queer seniors, a rambunctious group of elders insist on taking him under their wing.

Alternating between both timelines, Four Squares is an intimate look at what it means to find community at any age. With humor and compassion, it honors the enduring power of queer friendship, its history, and how essential it is to keep those stories alive.
1

1992

The man at the computer felt like he'd been writing different versions of the same sentence his whole life, but it had been only eight hours in the middle of his thirtieth birthday.

Cookie Squares. They're anything but.

These cookies aren't square. They're Squares.

These Squares aren't square.

Can you Square it?

The shape of cookies to come.

Cookie Squares.

It's hip to eat Squares.

The first Square meal of your day.

Your first Square meal is anything but.

Now you're square.

Now it's square.

Get square.

Get Squares.

Cookies: part of a square meal.

Part of a square meal.

Artie Anderson turned away from his computer screen, squeezed the back of his aching neck, and looked at the clock above the corkboard to his left. It had just turned 4:58 p.m., according to a second hand that turned with an unnerving, stealthy smoothness. Artie believed a second hand ought to tick, that time should be delineated by an infinite parade of percussive seconds that could be drowned out but never entirely quieted, so that when you shut up, there it was, that mechanical ticking and tocking, reminding you of everything that could or couldn't be. He gave a quick massage to the muscles along his spine, the ones whose tightness seemed to radiate and made his head ache every weekday around this time, then went back to the word processor.

In the past eight hours he'd written 298 potential taglines for a new sugary breakfast cereal targeted at children precisely one-third his age. Though he didn't much enjoy the sample that Pearl Mills had FedExed to the office earlier in the month, he did feel like Cookie Squares deserved better than the nearly three hundred lines he'd written so far. "Quantity leads to quality," his boss told him his first week on the job, baring his mouthful of glistening, eerily perfect teeth. "The most reliable way to write one great tagline is to write a thousand bad ones first." Over the past two years, Artie had found the pithy advice to be more or less correct. Though a successful line could be written in mere seconds during a brainstorming session with coworkers-in fact, no fewer than ten creatives in his office still claimed credit for Video Gallery's beloved "Bring Hollywood Home Tonight" line-most of them were trees sprouted from the seeds of a dense, healthy forest. It was a forest whose perpetual creation brought him a sense of actual calm, since the more time he spent alone writing copy, filling page after page with every possible expression of a single idea, the less time he spent thinking about how profoundly uncomfortable he felt around his coworkers. Today there were no standouts on his list of four-to-ten-word phrases meant to convince petulant children to demand colorful boxes of die-cut sugar from their miserable parents, but there were enough of them that he felt as though work had been done. Artie sent the document to the printer, ripped off the perforated edges, and marched down the hall to Joe's office in the building's southeastern corner.

He knocked gently, then pushed the half-open door enough to see Joe squinting at a pile of paper on his desk and rubbing his scalp. Joe was in his mid-forties, dressed like he was in his mid-thirties, and played music as loudly as someone in their mid-twenties. He had a wife and three kids and a dream job but was proudest of his hair, which was long and thick and jet-black without the aid of Just For Men. When he noticed Artie in the doorway, dressed for the part of copywriter with his starched blue shirt tucked tightly into a pair of khaki pants, Joe lowered the volume on his stereo and waved him in with a gesture that, if performed by almost anyone else, would have been welcoming.

"Cookie Squares stuff," Artie said stiffly as he handed the taglines to Joe, who just tossed them on the only bare spot on his desk. After a pause, Artie reminded Joe that today was his birthday, that he'd already worked with Annette on layouts, and that he'd more than made up for the hours he'd be gone today elsewhere in the week, since he had to go home right at five to bake his own birthday cake in time for a dinner. He was overflowing with unnecessary excuses and used a defensive tone for no reason, as usual, but Joe eventually shut him up with a flap of the hand.

"I remember," he said. "What the hell are you still doing here? Go home. Have a great birthday."

"Thanks, Joe."

"I pay you enough, right?" he asked, finally looking up from the pile of mock-ups with a hint of genuine concern in his eyes.

"What? Yeah. I mean, of course. I'm happy with my compensation. I told HR that at my review whenever that was . . . a few months ago, maybe? Is there a problem?"

"I'm just saying you can save time by throwing money at the problem. Can't remember the last time my wife baked a cake for our kids. The only food she puts in our oven comes straight from the freezer-it's like she's somehow got less time than I do. I'll never understand what she does all day. But what I'm saying is, just go to any bakery, and they'll make whatever the hell you ask for. Sharks or trucks or Ninja Turtles or-What is it you like?"

"How do you mean?"

Joe sucked in his lips and squinted. "Just go," he finally said with half a laugh. "Expense the cab home if you want."

"Subway's faster, but thanks. Maybe I'll buy my own cake next year."

"You won't regret it."


Artie’s firm, RKS, had been around for ten years, which was relatively young for the advertising business. It entered the landscape after David Ogilvy changed the game with his now ubiquitous marriage of sparse imagery and large blocks of text. RKS always strove to be off-kilter, more inclined to create trends than follow them. But like most enterprises with noble beginnings, it had already begun to fall into a stasis, albeit a successful one. They had their trophy clients, the ones that paid everyone’s handsome salaries and kept the office more modern and comfortable than any other in the twenty-two-story building they occupied on Madison Avenue, but they hadn’t created a truly noteworthy ad in five years, when Joe’s overtly misogynistic campaign for a deodorant brand won so many awards he had to buy another shelf for his office.

Eventually Joe was promoted to chief creative officer, a job that was more about decision-making than creativity. With it came a light-filled corner office complete with ample space for even more trophies, a suburban living room's supply of seating, plenty of time away from the family he openly loathed being around, and a mini fridge filled with Diet Coke and Heineken. Unless, of course, clients were visiting, in which case it was emptied and restocked with Diet Pepsi and Bud Light.

Artie had never studied advertising-he was an English major, to the horror of his parents-and applied for the job on a whim, after a man he made out with for six hours at an all-night dance party at the Holy Spirit told him that advertising was a much more reliable way to make money as a writer. Well, first he told him to work for a magazine, but when Artie said he preferred writing fiction, the man licked his lips and said, "Advertising is just lies, and isn't that a kind of fiction?" Artie found a sort of profundity within the man's gentle slurring, and thought a quick buck would be better than his miserable job in the human resources department for an insurance company. Joe was surprised by Artie's application, specifically its total lack of experience in the field, but impressed by his inclusion of short stories, some published and some not. Maybe Artie was the kind of writer the agency needed for a burst of creativity-someone who came from a different world, instead of the same cycle of colleges and programs from which everyone else in the department hailed. He was a white man who knew how to tie a tie, so at the very least he looked the part. The problem, though, was that he never quite felt it. And when Artie felt a needling of discomfort around his coworkers, he preferred to believe it was because of his lack of experience, not because of his lack of any overt sexual identity.

"Running home," he said to his office-mate and creative partner, Annette, almost out of breath from a jog past the framed advertisements lining the south hallway. "Just gave the lines to Joe, but he seemed swamped and pissed, so I doubt there will be any feedback until after the weekend. You gonna be OK with the layouts, or do you need me to stay?"

"All good," Annette said, still hunched over the drafting table as usual. He sometimes wished he were an art director and not a copywriter-there was a more palpable drama to their creativity, whereas his own just looked like typing. When she finally looked up and locked eyes with Artie, her face particularly youthful and innocent, she laughed. "I mean it. Go home. Happy birthday."

He grinned and bolted toward the elevator with a quick slap on the doorframe. "You're the best. Thanks, Annette."

A few power-walked blocks south and Artie was on the D train heading toward the West Village. On the one hand, he loved his commute, four stops on a single train that didn't even have a bend in the tracks. On the other hand, he hated its efficiency, as it prevented him from doing much reading. So, for the better part of his time at RKS, he'd left for the office forty-five minutes earlier than necessary, providing him the time to take in a chapter or two on a Bryant Park bench every morning. Thanks to the comforting anonymity of a metropolitan crowd, it was private time that just happened to be in public, a daily ritual he treasured to the extent that he never told another friend or coworker about it, for fear that its peace would disappear once exposed to another living soul. How were any of his friends, none of whom had a clue about advertising, to know that it wasn't an industry of late nights and early mornings? The last thing anyone in his department wanted to do was catch a proverbial worm.

It wasn't until the doors were closing at the 14th Street station that he realized he should have gotten out there. On most days, Artie used the West 4th Street station in the morning and evening, despite it being farther from his apartment, as he enjoyed the walk up and down the West Village's mess of improbable lefts and rights. Emerging at 14th Street would have saved him a few precious minutes, the remainder of which he calculated in his head once aboveground and jogging to his place. His friends would be arriving by seven, which meant the cake had to be in the oven in twenty minutes if it were to be even remotely cool enough to frost by 6:50.

It was enough time, he thought, but cutting it close. Artie liked a buffer zone in most things, a kind of grace period to be certain everything would go as planned. It was the kind of character trait people didn't mind calling him out for to his face, an insult disguised as an intimate observation. The last time this happened, when he was the first to arrive at the Quad for a movie, Kimberly commented that it was classic Artie, early when he didn't need to be and also, somehow, anxious about being somewhere too early, probably because he was the kind of person who left places early, too. She hadn't said parties or bars specifically, but Artie knew that's what she'd meant. And so what if Artie preferred to arrive to places early and be in bed at a reasonable hour? Though there had been acid on Kimberly's lips as she'd joked about him in the otherwise empty theater, Adam laughed anyway at her comment and clapped Artie on the shoulder as they settled in their seats. "Classic Artie," Kim said. The words echoed inside of him, shaking loose intrusive thoughts as they rattled around.

Artie's apartment building was on the corner of Bank Street and Greenwich Avenue, in the northeastern corner of the neighborhood. He lived on the fourth floor, and his living room looked out onto Greenwich, not quite east, providing the perfect angle for a gentle morning sun. He'd moved the previous year, when the extra money from his advertising salary made him feel a little better about living on his own. It wasn't that he couldn't have afforded it before-plenty of people he knew lived in studios alone and paid rent on time without worry-but once again, the buffer. There was a larger one with RKS, so he finally moved a couple blocks away to an apartment with a real view and a real bedroom. He'd never been prouder of anything in his life than that view. It was the sort of thing people admired within seconds of crossing the threshold. He didn't have much stuff, but oh, did he ever have light. "Oh my god," they'd always say, followed by either "Your light!" "Your windows!" "Your view!" or "Your apartment!" He melted at their inevitable use of the possessive. To them, the light was his. The windows were his. The version of New York down in the street below, his. He wrapped himself up in their compliments every time, despite knowing they weren't really complimenting him but his city. No matter, it still made him feel like he'd made the right decision. He'd grown up in southern Ohio, surrounded by trees and brush, inside a tense and silent home where all the light was filtered through leaves whose fluttering made the air seem like it was simmering. Thanks to his parents, it often was.

Cake. He turned on the oven. He opened the box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix he'd placed there before leaving in the morning and dumped its contents into the adjacent bowl. Eggs, oil, water. Stir, stir, stir. Spray both pans. Divide them as evenly as possible. Pop them into the oven, which wasn't quite preheated but close enough. He set an egg timer for forty minutes and ran into the bathroom to shower. Getting ready took longer than he'd anticipated, as he couldn't decide what to wear. This would have been easier if Kimberly were already here, he thought. Instead, he was just trying on outfit after outfit, staring at himself in the floor-length mirror nailed to his bedroom door as he contorted his body into all the awkward ways it managed to move, especially during a night out drinking, hoping it would look somewhat appealing in at least one of them. He was in black jeans and a white tank top when he took the first alarming sniff. There was no time to decide on a shirt; something was burning. Not just one thing, actually, but two.
One of People’s Most-Anticipated Summer Books
One of People’s Essential Reading for Pride: Our Favorite LGBTQ+ Books for Adults
One of Bustle’s 40 Most Anticipated Summer Reads
One of Book Riot’s 15 of the Best LGBTQ Beach Reads of 2024
One of Amazon Book Review’s Boks Everyone Can Read with Pride
One of Barnes and Noble’s Most Anticipated Books of June 2024
One of Kirkus Review’s 20 LGBTQ+ Books to Celebrate Pride Month
One of Betches’ Best 2024 LGBTQIA+ Books to Add to Your Cart ASAP
One of Brit + Co’s 15 LGBTQ+ Books That are Essential (And Fun) Pride Month Reads
One of Biblio Lifestyle’s Top 6 Best Literary Fiction Beach Reads for Summer 2024

“A charming, heartwarming novel.” —People

Four Squares had my heart in its hands from the first page. Finger's decades-spanning novel is not only a love letter to an ever-changing New York, but also an ode to friendships—those that are old, those that are new, and those that are entirely unexpected. It's a celebration of the power of community to uplift and heal us, and a testament to the necessity of keeping queer stories alive. It's also uproariously, side-splittingly funny.” —Grant Ginder, author of Let's Not Do That Again

“Five stars for Four Squares! A beautiful and immersive story of often achingly relatable moments of being gay and longing for love during trying times. This journey of a writer seeking to perfectly capture imperfect joys of friendships and family—trying to put words to life’s sometimes indescribable experiences—is hopeful, insightful, and absolutely delightful.” —Byron Lane, author of Big Gay Wedding

“Heartfelt and entertaining…Finger’s inviting tone of warmth and decency, his empathy for these people and their world, his bright humor, skillful timing and clever phrasing, carried me along…Four Squares pays tribute to the resilience of the gay community in the face of staggering challenges, the vital importance of queer friendships and, as one GALS pal puts it, ‘the pleasure of finding your people.’ This welcome message remains as maddeningly relevant as it was way, way back in the 1990s.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A sweetly melancholy novel…Finger does a nice job dramatizing Artie’s fear of dying alone, and he movingly describes the terror and prejudice gay men and lesbians faced during the AIDS crisis and beyond…Audiences hungry for a warmhearted story will happily accompany Finger on the journey.” —Shelf Awareness

“Excuse me while I sob for 300 pages. Old people just get me so emosh, guys.” —Betches

“With friendship at its heart, author Bobby Finger’s followup to The Old Place finds more tenderness within community-driven narratives.” —Pride Source

"Finger’s depictions of the changes in the West Village, the depredations of aging, and the possibilities of romantic connection between older single people are acute, yet infused with a sweet shrug of resignation...A big-hearted and relatable read, especially if you’re old enough to remember the 1990s." —Kirkus Reviews

“Finger’s affectionate and evocative sophomore novel (after The Old Place) alternates between two distinct periods in a writer’s life… [Artie] makes for an endearing protagonist, one who is deeply shaped by his evolving feelings for others in his life. Admirers of Finger’s first book will love this.” —Publishers Weekly

“Another funny, heartfelt novel…Finger’s dialogue is exquisite, and his characters are unforgettable. Four Squares is a readable and cinematic tribute to queer love and friendship.” —Booklist

“[A] touching, sweet book about a gay man finding a queer community again after his 60th birthday…Finger deftly guides us through all the feelings of hope, regret, loss, and joy that come with aging and leaving your comfort zone. It’s also a beautiful tribute to the queer community of New York City: past, present, and future.” —Book Riot

"Bobby Finger’s beautiful sophomore release explores a vital, queer Baby Boomer perspective... It’s a love letter to the gay community—especially the elders who fought for the progress we’ve seen since the AIDS epidemic—and the importance of preserving its history. " —Bustle

“From a former B&N Monthly Pick author, this is a big-hearted novel of community and fresh starts, perfect for fans of Less by Andrew Sean Greer.” —Barnes and Noble Reads

“This novel alternates between the two timelines, exploring two different paths that Artie could have taken and taking the reader on a journey of self-discovery.” —Brit + Co

“A moving and reflective novel of New York, aging, community, and chosen family.” —Arlington Magazine

“This warm, funny, bittersweet valentine to the importance of community and connection at any age feels like a hug.” —Amazon Book Review

Four Squares masterfully explores community, aging, and relationships in gay Manhattan through heartfelt storytelling and keen observations, making it one of the best literary fiction beach reads of 2024.” —Biblio Lifestyle

Four Squares is a work of immense literary generosity. Through the story of Artie Anderson—at once an every(gay)man and an unforgettable protagonist—Finger has braided together New York City’s queer past and its queer present, bringing a community’s joys, sorrows, and unsung heroes into the light. A witty, absorbing, and deeply loveable book.” —Daniel Lefferts, author of Ways and Means

Four Squares affirms what all of us hope is so: We can put our lives, our emotions on hold for only so long, pushing away contentment and, yes, joy with bitter resolve. When we can ignore happiness no longer, it’s there to welcome us, informed and enriched by that hurt and loss—and somehow richer. Four Squares is just the Bobby Finger-taught life lesson I needed.” —Jeffrey Dale Lofton, author of Red Clay Suzie
© Elena Mudd
Bobby Finger is the author of The Old Place, and cohost of the popular celebrity and entertainment podcast, Who? Weekly. A Texas native, he lives in Brooklyn, New York. View titles by Bobby Finger

About

From the beloved author of The Old Place comes a tender, funny, and fresh novel about a gay writer in New York City whose life is irrevocably altered, and then again thirty years later.

In 1992, on his thirtieth birthday, Artie Anderson meets the man who will change his life. Artie spends his days at a tedious advertising job, finding relief in the corner of New York City he can call his own, even as the queer community is still being ravaged by HIV. But when his birthday celebration brings Artie and his friends to his favorite bar, a chance encounter with Abe, an uptight lawyer and Artie’s opposite in almost every way, pushes Artie to want, and to ask for, more for himself.

Thirty years later, Artie is stunned when Halle and Vanessa, Abe’s daughter and ex-wife, announce they are moving across the country. Artie has built a lovely, if small, life, but their departure makes Artie realize that he might be lonelier than he previously thought. When a surprising injury pushes Artie into the hands of GALS, the local center for queer seniors, a rambunctious group of elders insist on taking him under their wing.

Alternating between both timelines, Four Squares is an intimate look at what it means to find community at any age. With humor and compassion, it honors the enduring power of queer friendship, its history, and how essential it is to keep those stories alive.

Excerpt

1

1992

The man at the computer felt like he'd been writing different versions of the same sentence his whole life, but it had been only eight hours in the middle of his thirtieth birthday.

Cookie Squares. They're anything but.

These cookies aren't square. They're Squares.

These Squares aren't square.

Can you Square it?

The shape of cookies to come.

Cookie Squares.

It's hip to eat Squares.

The first Square meal of your day.

Your first Square meal is anything but.

Now you're square.

Now it's square.

Get square.

Get Squares.

Cookies: part of a square meal.

Part of a square meal.

Artie Anderson turned away from his computer screen, squeezed the back of his aching neck, and looked at the clock above the corkboard to his left. It had just turned 4:58 p.m., according to a second hand that turned with an unnerving, stealthy smoothness. Artie believed a second hand ought to tick, that time should be delineated by an infinite parade of percussive seconds that could be drowned out but never entirely quieted, so that when you shut up, there it was, that mechanical ticking and tocking, reminding you of everything that could or couldn't be. He gave a quick massage to the muscles along his spine, the ones whose tightness seemed to radiate and made his head ache every weekday around this time, then went back to the word processor.

In the past eight hours he'd written 298 potential taglines for a new sugary breakfast cereal targeted at children precisely one-third his age. Though he didn't much enjoy the sample that Pearl Mills had FedExed to the office earlier in the month, he did feel like Cookie Squares deserved better than the nearly three hundred lines he'd written so far. "Quantity leads to quality," his boss told him his first week on the job, baring his mouthful of glistening, eerily perfect teeth. "The most reliable way to write one great tagline is to write a thousand bad ones first." Over the past two years, Artie had found the pithy advice to be more or less correct. Though a successful line could be written in mere seconds during a brainstorming session with coworkers-in fact, no fewer than ten creatives in his office still claimed credit for Video Gallery's beloved "Bring Hollywood Home Tonight" line-most of them were trees sprouted from the seeds of a dense, healthy forest. It was a forest whose perpetual creation brought him a sense of actual calm, since the more time he spent alone writing copy, filling page after page with every possible expression of a single idea, the less time he spent thinking about how profoundly uncomfortable he felt around his coworkers. Today there were no standouts on his list of four-to-ten-word phrases meant to convince petulant children to demand colorful boxes of die-cut sugar from their miserable parents, but there were enough of them that he felt as though work had been done. Artie sent the document to the printer, ripped off the perforated edges, and marched down the hall to Joe's office in the building's southeastern corner.

He knocked gently, then pushed the half-open door enough to see Joe squinting at a pile of paper on his desk and rubbing his scalp. Joe was in his mid-forties, dressed like he was in his mid-thirties, and played music as loudly as someone in their mid-twenties. He had a wife and three kids and a dream job but was proudest of his hair, which was long and thick and jet-black without the aid of Just For Men. When he noticed Artie in the doorway, dressed for the part of copywriter with his starched blue shirt tucked tightly into a pair of khaki pants, Joe lowered the volume on his stereo and waved him in with a gesture that, if performed by almost anyone else, would have been welcoming.

"Cookie Squares stuff," Artie said stiffly as he handed the taglines to Joe, who just tossed them on the only bare spot on his desk. After a pause, Artie reminded Joe that today was his birthday, that he'd already worked with Annette on layouts, and that he'd more than made up for the hours he'd be gone today elsewhere in the week, since he had to go home right at five to bake his own birthday cake in time for a dinner. He was overflowing with unnecessary excuses and used a defensive tone for no reason, as usual, but Joe eventually shut him up with a flap of the hand.

"I remember," he said. "What the hell are you still doing here? Go home. Have a great birthday."

"Thanks, Joe."

"I pay you enough, right?" he asked, finally looking up from the pile of mock-ups with a hint of genuine concern in his eyes.

"What? Yeah. I mean, of course. I'm happy with my compensation. I told HR that at my review whenever that was . . . a few months ago, maybe? Is there a problem?"

"I'm just saying you can save time by throwing money at the problem. Can't remember the last time my wife baked a cake for our kids. The only food she puts in our oven comes straight from the freezer-it's like she's somehow got less time than I do. I'll never understand what she does all day. But what I'm saying is, just go to any bakery, and they'll make whatever the hell you ask for. Sharks or trucks or Ninja Turtles or-What is it you like?"

"How do you mean?"

Joe sucked in his lips and squinted. "Just go," he finally said with half a laugh. "Expense the cab home if you want."

"Subway's faster, but thanks. Maybe I'll buy my own cake next year."

"You won't regret it."


Artie’s firm, RKS, had been around for ten years, which was relatively young for the advertising business. It entered the landscape after David Ogilvy changed the game with his now ubiquitous marriage of sparse imagery and large blocks of text. RKS always strove to be off-kilter, more inclined to create trends than follow them. But like most enterprises with noble beginnings, it had already begun to fall into a stasis, albeit a successful one. They had their trophy clients, the ones that paid everyone’s handsome salaries and kept the office more modern and comfortable than any other in the twenty-two-story building they occupied on Madison Avenue, but they hadn’t created a truly noteworthy ad in five years, when Joe’s overtly misogynistic campaign for a deodorant brand won so many awards he had to buy another shelf for his office.

Eventually Joe was promoted to chief creative officer, a job that was more about decision-making than creativity. With it came a light-filled corner office complete with ample space for even more trophies, a suburban living room's supply of seating, plenty of time away from the family he openly loathed being around, and a mini fridge filled with Diet Coke and Heineken. Unless, of course, clients were visiting, in which case it was emptied and restocked with Diet Pepsi and Bud Light.

Artie had never studied advertising-he was an English major, to the horror of his parents-and applied for the job on a whim, after a man he made out with for six hours at an all-night dance party at the Holy Spirit told him that advertising was a much more reliable way to make money as a writer. Well, first he told him to work for a magazine, but when Artie said he preferred writing fiction, the man licked his lips and said, "Advertising is just lies, and isn't that a kind of fiction?" Artie found a sort of profundity within the man's gentle slurring, and thought a quick buck would be better than his miserable job in the human resources department for an insurance company. Joe was surprised by Artie's application, specifically its total lack of experience in the field, but impressed by his inclusion of short stories, some published and some not. Maybe Artie was the kind of writer the agency needed for a burst of creativity-someone who came from a different world, instead of the same cycle of colleges and programs from which everyone else in the department hailed. He was a white man who knew how to tie a tie, so at the very least he looked the part. The problem, though, was that he never quite felt it. And when Artie felt a needling of discomfort around his coworkers, he preferred to believe it was because of his lack of experience, not because of his lack of any overt sexual identity.

"Running home," he said to his office-mate and creative partner, Annette, almost out of breath from a jog past the framed advertisements lining the south hallway. "Just gave the lines to Joe, but he seemed swamped and pissed, so I doubt there will be any feedback until after the weekend. You gonna be OK with the layouts, or do you need me to stay?"

"All good," Annette said, still hunched over the drafting table as usual. He sometimes wished he were an art director and not a copywriter-there was a more palpable drama to their creativity, whereas his own just looked like typing. When she finally looked up and locked eyes with Artie, her face particularly youthful and innocent, she laughed. "I mean it. Go home. Happy birthday."

He grinned and bolted toward the elevator with a quick slap on the doorframe. "You're the best. Thanks, Annette."

A few power-walked blocks south and Artie was on the D train heading toward the West Village. On the one hand, he loved his commute, four stops on a single train that didn't even have a bend in the tracks. On the other hand, he hated its efficiency, as it prevented him from doing much reading. So, for the better part of his time at RKS, he'd left for the office forty-five minutes earlier than necessary, providing him the time to take in a chapter or two on a Bryant Park bench every morning. Thanks to the comforting anonymity of a metropolitan crowd, it was private time that just happened to be in public, a daily ritual he treasured to the extent that he never told another friend or coworker about it, for fear that its peace would disappear once exposed to another living soul. How were any of his friends, none of whom had a clue about advertising, to know that it wasn't an industry of late nights and early mornings? The last thing anyone in his department wanted to do was catch a proverbial worm.

It wasn't until the doors were closing at the 14th Street station that he realized he should have gotten out there. On most days, Artie used the West 4th Street station in the morning and evening, despite it being farther from his apartment, as he enjoyed the walk up and down the West Village's mess of improbable lefts and rights. Emerging at 14th Street would have saved him a few precious minutes, the remainder of which he calculated in his head once aboveground and jogging to his place. His friends would be arriving by seven, which meant the cake had to be in the oven in twenty minutes if it were to be even remotely cool enough to frost by 6:50.

It was enough time, he thought, but cutting it close. Artie liked a buffer zone in most things, a kind of grace period to be certain everything would go as planned. It was the kind of character trait people didn't mind calling him out for to his face, an insult disguised as an intimate observation. The last time this happened, when he was the first to arrive at the Quad for a movie, Kimberly commented that it was classic Artie, early when he didn't need to be and also, somehow, anxious about being somewhere too early, probably because he was the kind of person who left places early, too. She hadn't said parties or bars specifically, but Artie knew that's what she'd meant. And so what if Artie preferred to arrive to places early and be in bed at a reasonable hour? Though there had been acid on Kimberly's lips as she'd joked about him in the otherwise empty theater, Adam laughed anyway at her comment and clapped Artie on the shoulder as they settled in their seats. "Classic Artie," Kim said. The words echoed inside of him, shaking loose intrusive thoughts as they rattled around.

Artie's apartment building was on the corner of Bank Street and Greenwich Avenue, in the northeastern corner of the neighborhood. He lived on the fourth floor, and his living room looked out onto Greenwich, not quite east, providing the perfect angle for a gentle morning sun. He'd moved the previous year, when the extra money from his advertising salary made him feel a little better about living on his own. It wasn't that he couldn't have afforded it before-plenty of people he knew lived in studios alone and paid rent on time without worry-but once again, the buffer. There was a larger one with RKS, so he finally moved a couple blocks away to an apartment with a real view and a real bedroom. He'd never been prouder of anything in his life than that view. It was the sort of thing people admired within seconds of crossing the threshold. He didn't have much stuff, but oh, did he ever have light. "Oh my god," they'd always say, followed by either "Your light!" "Your windows!" "Your view!" or "Your apartment!" He melted at their inevitable use of the possessive. To them, the light was his. The windows were his. The version of New York down in the street below, his. He wrapped himself up in their compliments every time, despite knowing they weren't really complimenting him but his city. No matter, it still made him feel like he'd made the right decision. He'd grown up in southern Ohio, surrounded by trees and brush, inside a tense and silent home where all the light was filtered through leaves whose fluttering made the air seem like it was simmering. Thanks to his parents, it often was.

Cake. He turned on the oven. He opened the box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix he'd placed there before leaving in the morning and dumped its contents into the adjacent bowl. Eggs, oil, water. Stir, stir, stir. Spray both pans. Divide them as evenly as possible. Pop them into the oven, which wasn't quite preheated but close enough. He set an egg timer for forty minutes and ran into the bathroom to shower. Getting ready took longer than he'd anticipated, as he couldn't decide what to wear. This would have been easier if Kimberly were already here, he thought. Instead, he was just trying on outfit after outfit, staring at himself in the floor-length mirror nailed to his bedroom door as he contorted his body into all the awkward ways it managed to move, especially during a night out drinking, hoping it would look somewhat appealing in at least one of them. He was in black jeans and a white tank top when he took the first alarming sniff. There was no time to decide on a shirt; something was burning. Not just one thing, actually, but two.

Reviews

One of People’s Most-Anticipated Summer Books
One of People’s Essential Reading for Pride: Our Favorite LGBTQ+ Books for Adults
One of Bustle’s 40 Most Anticipated Summer Reads
One of Book Riot’s 15 of the Best LGBTQ Beach Reads of 2024
One of Amazon Book Review’s Boks Everyone Can Read with Pride
One of Barnes and Noble’s Most Anticipated Books of June 2024
One of Kirkus Review’s 20 LGBTQ+ Books to Celebrate Pride Month
One of Betches’ Best 2024 LGBTQIA+ Books to Add to Your Cart ASAP
One of Brit + Co’s 15 LGBTQ+ Books That are Essential (And Fun) Pride Month Reads
One of Biblio Lifestyle’s Top 6 Best Literary Fiction Beach Reads for Summer 2024

“A charming, heartwarming novel.” —People

Four Squares had my heart in its hands from the first page. Finger's decades-spanning novel is not only a love letter to an ever-changing New York, but also an ode to friendships—those that are old, those that are new, and those that are entirely unexpected. It's a celebration of the power of community to uplift and heal us, and a testament to the necessity of keeping queer stories alive. It's also uproariously, side-splittingly funny.” —Grant Ginder, author of Let's Not Do That Again

“Five stars for Four Squares! A beautiful and immersive story of often achingly relatable moments of being gay and longing for love during trying times. This journey of a writer seeking to perfectly capture imperfect joys of friendships and family—trying to put words to life’s sometimes indescribable experiences—is hopeful, insightful, and absolutely delightful.” —Byron Lane, author of Big Gay Wedding

“Heartfelt and entertaining…Finger’s inviting tone of warmth and decency, his empathy for these people and their world, his bright humor, skillful timing and clever phrasing, carried me along…Four Squares pays tribute to the resilience of the gay community in the face of staggering challenges, the vital importance of queer friendships and, as one GALS pal puts it, ‘the pleasure of finding your people.’ This welcome message remains as maddeningly relevant as it was way, way back in the 1990s.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A sweetly melancholy novel…Finger does a nice job dramatizing Artie’s fear of dying alone, and he movingly describes the terror and prejudice gay men and lesbians faced during the AIDS crisis and beyond…Audiences hungry for a warmhearted story will happily accompany Finger on the journey.” —Shelf Awareness

“Excuse me while I sob for 300 pages. Old people just get me so emosh, guys.” —Betches

“With friendship at its heart, author Bobby Finger’s followup to The Old Place finds more tenderness within community-driven narratives.” —Pride Source

"Finger’s depictions of the changes in the West Village, the depredations of aging, and the possibilities of romantic connection between older single people are acute, yet infused with a sweet shrug of resignation...A big-hearted and relatable read, especially if you’re old enough to remember the 1990s." —Kirkus Reviews

“Finger’s affectionate and evocative sophomore novel (after The Old Place) alternates between two distinct periods in a writer’s life… [Artie] makes for an endearing protagonist, one who is deeply shaped by his evolving feelings for others in his life. Admirers of Finger’s first book will love this.” —Publishers Weekly

“Another funny, heartfelt novel…Finger’s dialogue is exquisite, and his characters are unforgettable. Four Squares is a readable and cinematic tribute to queer love and friendship.” —Booklist

“[A] touching, sweet book about a gay man finding a queer community again after his 60th birthday…Finger deftly guides us through all the feelings of hope, regret, loss, and joy that come with aging and leaving your comfort zone. It’s also a beautiful tribute to the queer community of New York City: past, present, and future.” —Book Riot

"Bobby Finger’s beautiful sophomore release explores a vital, queer Baby Boomer perspective... It’s a love letter to the gay community—especially the elders who fought for the progress we’ve seen since the AIDS epidemic—and the importance of preserving its history. " —Bustle

“From a former B&N Monthly Pick author, this is a big-hearted novel of community and fresh starts, perfect for fans of Less by Andrew Sean Greer.” —Barnes and Noble Reads

“This novel alternates between the two timelines, exploring two different paths that Artie could have taken and taking the reader on a journey of self-discovery.” —Brit + Co

“A moving and reflective novel of New York, aging, community, and chosen family.” —Arlington Magazine

“This warm, funny, bittersweet valentine to the importance of community and connection at any age feels like a hug.” —Amazon Book Review

Four Squares masterfully explores community, aging, and relationships in gay Manhattan through heartfelt storytelling and keen observations, making it one of the best literary fiction beach reads of 2024.” —Biblio Lifestyle

Four Squares is a work of immense literary generosity. Through the story of Artie Anderson—at once an every(gay)man and an unforgettable protagonist—Finger has braided together New York City’s queer past and its queer present, bringing a community’s joys, sorrows, and unsung heroes into the light. A witty, absorbing, and deeply loveable book.” —Daniel Lefferts, author of Ways and Means

Four Squares affirms what all of us hope is so: We can put our lives, our emotions on hold for only so long, pushing away contentment and, yes, joy with bitter resolve. When we can ignore happiness no longer, it’s there to welcome us, informed and enriched by that hurt and loss—and somehow richer. Four Squares is just the Bobby Finger-taught life lesson I needed.” —Jeffrey Dale Lofton, author of Red Clay Suzie

Author

© Elena Mudd
Bobby Finger is the author of The Old Place, and cohost of the popular celebrity and entertainment podcast, Who? Weekly. A Texas native, he lives in Brooklyn, New York. View titles by Bobby Finger