The Occasional Man by James Barr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure I was going to finish this book but I did.
I originally got my e-reader for some library books and the odd one you find online, I thought I could save some money that way. Who knew it would be so easy, so convenient, that now when I go back to a regular book it seems a chore.
The pages are small, the writing is small, holding it for extended periods flares up my carpal tunnel, you need the light of a thousand stars to see it, it doesn’t flow. How did I not notice all this before?
I came across this book from the place I volunteer, the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives. Barr’s Quatrefoil is the more famous of his novels, but this one was a duplicate and unwanted, unloved, so I picked it up.
The book itself is pre-Stonewall and embodies all the problems of gay literature from that period. Melodrama, suicides, depression, yuck. I enjoyed the time capsule component of the work and some of the themes were timeless, such as an older gay man taking a younger man under his wing to show him around and such. What bugged me the most was the hypocrisy the main character David displays constantly. He’ll tell everyone in lengthy paragraphs exactly what’s wrong with them (sometimes resulting in a face slap), but he’s so messed up he’s decided to drink himself to death. He plays it cool with Gus, not leading him on, not saying the word love, not talking too much, then in the next page they’re exchanging wedding rings. He’s heavily flawed so why does he take so often to sitting on the mount proclaiming what’s wrong with others?
I liked the characters Gus and the black next-door neighbour, Hermie, although what kind of a name is that? I enjoyed the scene of a gay party, even if it was a little too fanciful. Another hypocrisy moment, David hated his ex-partner Claudie (another stupid name) going in drag but it’s all a great time when he kicks up his heels.
It was enjoyable enough and a decent if flawed portrait of 1960’s gay life. I think though you can find better.
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