Title: Happy Independence Day
Author: Michael Rupured
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Christy Caughie with Johannes Jordan
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Terrence Bottom wants to change the world. A prelaw student at Columbia University majoring in political science, his interests range from opposing the draft and the war in Vietnam, to civil rights for gays, to anything to do with Cameron McKenzie. Terrence notices the rugged blond hanging around the Stonewall Inn, but the handsome man—and rumored Mafia hustler—rebuffs his smiles and winks.
Cameron McKenzie dropped out of college and left tiny Paris, Kentucky after the death of the grandmother who raised him, dreaming of an acting career on Broadway. Although he claims to be straight, he becomes a prostitute to make ends meet. Now the Mafia is using him to entrap men for extortion schemes, he is in way over his head, and he can’t see a way out—at least not a way that doesn’t involve a swim to the bottom of the Hudson in a pair of cement flippers.
Cameron is left with a choice: endanger both their lives by telling Terrence everything or walk away from the only man he ever loved. The Mafia hustler and the student activist want to find a way to stay together, but first they need to find a way to stay alive.
I snatched up the opportunity to review this for this for Prism because I had liked Michael’s previous book, “After Christmas Eve.” I didn’t realize at first that this was a sequel to that book. However, as I read, and began to recognize the characters, the complex, dark plot of the first novel came flooding back to me.
In my review of “After Christmas Eve,” I described the story as being like a flower blooming in a desolate landscape, “a microcosmic look at that time in our country’s history when things finally began to change for the better, when that first hopeful, brightly-colored bloom unfolded its petals in the desert, warmed by the sun of a brighter future.”
Gosh, that was poetic of me. Clearly my emotions were running high on that review, and I confess things were pretty much the same as I finished “Happy Independence Day” last night. This book really needs to be read after the first volume, but only so that the reader understands the full context of its ragtag cast of characters, this messy, cobbled-together family.
And yet, this is a very different story. It is not a murder mystery, although Rupured manages to ratchet up plenty of anxiety through the course of the narrative. “Happy Independence Day” is set two years later, in late June of 1969, and the action shifts from Washington, DC to New York City. The central character, Phillip Potter, is now in the role of a fretful parent, worrying in a very June Cleaver way about the two young men he’s been living with and caring for since 1967. There is a high school graduation, and a “family” trip to New York to see the hot, scandalous Broadway shows “Hair” and “Oh, Calcutta.” Part of Phillip’s agenda is to catch up with Terrence, one of his youthful charges who has left the nest and is seeking his own future in the city. Terrance is the instigator for a visit to one of his hangouts, the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
Now, do you all remember what happens in Greenwich Village in June, 1969?
Just as “After Christmas Eve” painted a vivid (and sometimes very bleak) picture of what life for gay men was like in the mid-sixties, “Happy Independence Day” offers the equally vivid, and not particularly pretty backdrop, of gay life in Manhattan in that revolutionary year of 1969. Social life for gay men is proscribed by various laws that seem bizarrely unconstitutional to modern eyes. Their chief havens for social activity are bars run by greedy Mafiosi who pay off the city police and run sidelines of prostitution and extortion just to keep things profitable.
The centerpiece location of this book, you might have guessed, is the Stonewall Inn. What made it more than just another seedy bar in Greenwich Village was that gay men could dance together there. Rupured contrives the action in his book so that all of his characters converge on this location one hot early summer night, just before the Independence Day holiday. Into this mix he adds several new characters. Kelsey is a young dyke (good Lord, I remember when we used that word all the time), confident and strong, although just as cautious as all her peers in the face of a hostile world. We also meet Cameron, a Kentucky farm boy trapped in the Mob’s web of hustling and blackmail. Then there’s Kreema Dee Krop, an outrageous black transvestite, who becomes the flashpoint of the story and the fairy god mother for Phillip Potter’s little clan.
I know it seems unlikely, but I fell in love with Kreema. She embodies the courage, the anger and the sense of self that finally tipped the balance for gay people in American culture. She becomes the symbolic center of what happened on those two nights in lower Manhattan in June 1969, an event that would become the defining moment of gay history in America, and would henceforth be known simply by the term “Stonewall.”
Like Michael Rupured, I was a child of the post-Stonewall decade. In 1969 I was 13, and on the very cusp of understanding my orientation. Just six years later, in 1975, I opened my own closet door and transformed my own world. Little did I understand at the time—but would come to understand soon—that my courage to come out was a direct result of the events at Stonewall.
One interesting detail that Michael has put into this book is the character of Liana Salvatore, an Italian-American police officer assigned to the politically motivated raids on gay bars. She is Rupured’s parallel to Shirley White, the black officer in Washington who plays a key role in the previous novel. No friend to “homos,” Liana is at the same time offended at the Mafia, whose presence in New York is a constant embarrassment to Italian Americans, and also painfully aware of how women are still neglected and underpaid among New York police officers. We witness events through her eyes at key moments, and thus are offered the opportunity to understand how change, from the point of view of the straight world, begins to happen.
There are still things in this book that bother me, particularly Philip and George’s strange closeted relationship, just as they did in the last book. But they represent truths about gay life that are no less true because they make me uncomfortable. I was only thirteen; I knew nothing about being gay. Because of Stonewall, I came out into a world where I didn’t have to be so afraid.
Rupured is onto something, and I am glad he’s writing a third novel. I want to see where these people go next. And you will, too.
I would like to thank the author for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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