Author: John Buchanan
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: unknown
Rating: 4.0 of 5 Stars
“I have known I’m gay for two years now, as do my friends and family, yet inexplicably I find myself trapped inside a closet. It’s a closet in an old Tudor-style house in New England, with nothing but an old, tattered copy of Moby Dick for company. And this is the story of how I got here.”
So John the narrator begins his story. Arriving for a year to a liberal arts college with his best friend in 2008, he is immediately thrown into the lives of a priviliged group of students, roused and awakened by the upcoming Presidential election.
It’s an adventure that starts simply enough. John goes to a party, meets some new people, tries his best to fit in. It goes well. But a sudden explosion of violence starts a series of events that threaten to consume him and those around him.
Initially oblivious, John is preoccupied by a powerful new acquaintance with a movie star fixation. A tireless man on a mission, who believes that gay men face extinction and need to defend themselves from their own success. A defence that will involve Abraham Lincoln, eccentric sperm donors and the appropriation of American history to his own ends.
Recounting the details as best he can, often stumbling over his own ruminations on psychology, relationships and sexual ambiguity, John takes us on a surreal journey through memorable characters and remarkable episodes. All of which build slowly to a bracing climax, involving Three Ex Presidents (and James Franco).
An Irishman goes to an American college for a year, and along with him goes Brandon, his best mate since childhood. What follows is a mix of hi-jinx and history; amateur cultural philosophy mixed with the sort of confused romantic/sexual yearning most gay men have experienced in their youth. I’m not sure I ever learned what the narrator’s name is—only that he’s distantly related to James Buchanan, America’s only (supposedly) gay president. He’s referred to throughout the book as “Irish.” I liked him immediately, and then began to like him less. Having no patience for gay men who try to bed straight men, Irish’s behavior was beginning to irritate me, in spite of the clever writing and appealing, off-beat characters.
And then I told myself: stop being 59 and try to be 20 again.
This is when the pieces fell into place. And suddenly the nearly 40 years between my own coming-out-in-college and Irish’s faded away, and I saw myself, fumbling forward, trying to make sense of who I was and what I wanted. Irish pines for this lifelong friend, who is more or less straight. Irish is also a bit hung up on straight jock types, because he never saw himself as like those gay boys who come out and suddenly fit in and find their place in the world without any further drama. This is another of those moments when one realizes that, for all the forward motion in society, coming out today is weirdly like it was a generation ago.
So there’s Brandon and Eric and Fiona and Jake and Zach—who represent various shades of gay and express, in the course of the novel’s picaresque plotline, every self-important piece of hair-brained undergraduate socio-politics ever imagined. Some of which is pretty smart, I might add. What Irish wants is love; but he settles for sex. What he wants is not to be a gay stereotype; so he settles for sex. But even as he stumbles and seduces and gets dragged into ill-considered adventures and writes a play and meets ex-President Bill Clinton (yep); Irish changes.
Is Irish Irish because the playwright is? Or is this a sort of gay, collegiate odyssey through Nighttown à la Joyce’s “Ulysses?” I don’t know if it matters, I just know that my patience paid off. I was one of those boys for whom coming out was like Dorothy stepping through her front door into the colorful world of Oz. But I had friends, back in the 1970s, who were just like Irish. By projecting myself backwards, I settled into Irish’s mindset of yearning and befuddlement, of risk- taking and spontaneity. I found a young man trying to find his way. For all its sometime silliness, this is a subtle, thoughtful book. It is a journey of the heart and mind, and rather deeper than it might at first seem.
I would like to thank the publisher 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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