My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So much to say on this book! It’s never gone out of print and is one of the most widely read gay books of all time, which to me is remarkable. I know about two gay men who could read and finish this book. I know many more who should but the graphic sex, perhaps the most graphic in any book I’ve ever read, and the drug use would turn a lot off.
From the introduction:
“The purpose of satire… offers us oddly entertaining, generally exaggerated copies of foolish or evil behaviour in order to provoke our ridicule.”
This the book does. It took me about 100 pages to really get where the book was going and to fully understand the satire. In some ways nothing has changed from 1978 when this book was published and the tales of sexual excess still rang very true. It was only when I read of the white man having sex with the black man, the white man calling him the N word and the black man, pumping away, yelling “…you done take our cotton fields away!,” that I got that this was satire.
The book starts off with Kramer’s doppelganger Fred, and a refrain that will ring true then and now:
“All I want is someone who reads books, loves his work, and me, too, of course, and who doesn’t take drugs, and isn’t on unemployment.”
But this desire for a mate is impeded by Fred himself, and many gay men, by, as Kramer says:
“And every faggot couple I know is deep into friendship and deep into fucking with everyone else but each other and any minute any bump appears in their commitment to infinitesimally obstruct their view, out they zip like petulant kids to suck someone else’s lollipop instead of trying to work things out, instead of trying not to hide, and…unh…why do faggots have to fuck so fucking much?!”
In this I think Kramer relates the struggle of all gay men and the eventual growing up, or not, they must do. To me this is ultimately the point of the book, its one man’s struggle to weed out the excesses in his life in an attempt to see the forest for the trees. There are sub-points about gay identity and self-worth, but in the end the book is presented as one man’s struggle, and presented, I think, in the hope that we can find ourselves in that struggle. There was much backlash against this book, and judging by the reviews on here, there still is a lot of negativity directed at Kramer for writing it. The only gay bookstore in Manhattan banned the book upon its release. And something I learned in a course recently applies here, out of the 100% that is your negative reaction, what if 5% applied back to you?
That is I think there’s a lot that applies in this book. The desire for a mate sounds so simple but it’s really unattainable in that you cannot find someone who is not sabotaging themselves, we all do it. Kramer takes these sabotages to the extreme with the hope of asking why in a smart and funny way. The book isn’t easy to read, there are a lot of wayward tangents, lists, and run-on sentences like the following two:
“And so it was while watching one of the members fucking himself by sitting on a stationary twelve-inch rubber dildo while being bound hand and foot, the dildo impaled to a cross, the cross mounted on a stage, and the fellow also sucking the cock of a gentleman clad entirely in chain mail, except of course for his genitals, which were exposed, and enormous, and holding in his hand while mouth-fucking the impaled acolyte, not one but two hissing rattlesnakes, reputed to have been defanged but dripping something from their mouths nevertheless, all of this witnessed by forty-nine other members, each donged with grease, each jerking off either himself or a fellow clubber, in some sort of cockamamie version of the daisy chain, don’t Southern Californians have wonderful imaginations, whatever happened to King of the Mountain?, well, perhaps this was King of the Mountain—it was while watching all of this, and of course participating, he couldn’t be a spoilsport, that Randy had an epiphany. He began to realize to what lengths it would soon be necessary to travel to receive kicks sufficient to cause erection, and while he was finding these ceremonies reasonably exciting (and certainly a nice time-out from his studies), in that he had a good stiff one on while those two snakes were up there hissing away, he knew he had neither the time nor the abundant imagination to play “Can You Top This?” every time he wanted to get his rocks off.”
There’s enough wit to get through but the book could have used an editor with a heavier hand. An example of the wit:
“His skin was that deep white which tans nicely and is associated with health, vigor, keeping regular, drinking milk, chewing Wrigley’s, using Colgate, and walking in Keds.”
Some comments about the gay community can be scathing:
“Sex and love are different and any faggot given half a choice will take the former. And probably fucked with Adolf Hitler if he’d been cute!”
But it’s really no worse than we’ve all heard other gay men say.
The book ends with some home truths but it takes a very circuitous route to get there. The following quote was memorable for me:
“I’ve lived all over the world and I haven’t seen more than half a dozen couples who have what I want.”
Dinky’s voice chirped up in relief: “Then that should tell you something!”
The quote goes on and Fred justifies himself but I think the retort itself is worth noting. What if what we’re looking for doesn’t exist? With so many gay men there was never the option of the white picket fence and 2.2 kids, so what else is there and what does that look like? And is it even there for straight people? I agree, maybe half a dozen couples have a marriage that I would want, but what about our easy access, no responsibility culture is causing that, and what are we doing ourselves to cause that? Is it possible we don’t want what we want?
The book mentions “And a commitment to the notion that our shitty beginnings don’t have to cripple us for life.” I think a lot of gay men still have these terrible beginnings, and maybe that does make it harder to find love and happiness, but as Kramer would say, that doesn’t mean we have to act like faggots and make it more difficult for ourselves. As the book says: “There will always be enemies. Time to stop being your own.”
View all my reviews
Some notes on the text:
“He winced at second… And be winced at third.” – Should be he, Pg 132, Location 2041
“1 was doing in Savannah.” – Should be I, pg 173, location 2631
“be went to his scrapbook of clippings.” – Should be he, pg 183, location 2792
“Laveme, and Dinky with Laverne,” – Should be Laverne, pg 191. Location 2907
‘That’s very important today. – Opening quote should be “ instead of ‘, pg 217. Location 3283
“And it’s that self I say l want” – Should be I want, not L want, pg 319, location 4795
“hell wake you up and slip you your hose and I’ll wrap myself up in my poncho, just like overnights at Kamp Kedgeree, and hell”- First and last word should be he’ll, not hell. Pg 326, location 4894 & 4895