I WOULD LIKE to make it very clear that in reviewing this novel-which I might as well tell you I find revolting-I am not reviewing male homosexual life. I don't think Larry Kramer is writing about homosexual life. (Anita Bryant may think so, but that's her problem-and, to a reprehensible degree, Kramer's.) Although Kramer (the screenwriter of Women in Love ) has allowed his publishers to tout Faggots as "the inner reality of homosexual life," he is in fact writing about a peculiarly ugly, vicious, perverse, depraved, sado-masochistic subculture in which love does not exist-a subculture that homosexuals have been at pains to say is not representative of homosexual life. (If I believed for a moment that it were, I might be inclined to join forces with Bryant.)
And now that that's out of the way, we'll get to the sorry business at hand.
At the end of this book (which leaves nothing to the imagination), there is what is meant to be an epiphany. Fred Lemish, the homosexual whose story this is, tells himself that he "must have the strength and courage to say No . . . it takes courage not to be a faggot just like all the others. Now it's time to just be . . . I'm here.I'm not gay. I'm not a fairy. I'm not a fruit. I'm not queer. A little crazy, maybe. And I'm not a faggot. I'm a Homosexual Man. I'm Me. Pretty Classy."
Pretty Lousy Writing.
Lemish (I keep wanting to call him Nebbish ) makes his decision to just be (whatever that may mean) after a long Memorial Day weekend, during which he and the hapless reader become intimately involved with nonculinary amounts of Crisco, with urine and excrement, with "fag hags,) gallows, whips, leather executioner's masks, ropes and thongs and chains and buzzsaws and live snakes, dog-collars and artificial limbs and ankle shackles, ping-pong paddles, cattle prods-and well, that's enough of that.
The action takes place in the "meat rack" of New York's Fire Island, in bars and discos and bathhouses with names like The Toilet Bowl and Everhard; it includes fire, accidental death, dismemberment, raids, blackmail, incest . . .
And a cast of thousands: Lemish says "there are 2,556,596 faggots in the New York City area"; and so many of them turn up in this busy busy novel it's difficult to keep track of who is doing what to whom. (Indeed the participants in the bizarre activities so graphically described here seldom remember their partners, who are anonymous orifices, chosen for their muscle definition, used for a moment's pleasure or pain, or shame, and then discarded.) Among the members of the passing parade are "Boo Boo" Bronstein, a profligate young man who masterminds his own kidnapping in order to extort money from his longsuffering father; Irving Slough, a rich, aging shrink who silently backs heterosexual porn films and uses hypnosis to "cure" gays while forming an advertising agency to promote gays; Winnie the Winston Man America's symbol of virility, the most handsome model in Slough's stable, who dies casually and almost unnoticed at an orgiastic costume ball; 15-year olds who sell their bodies; old homosexuals who buy young bodies; and legions of the coarsened, corrupted, and self-absorbed. There are also tasteless allusions (one assumes Random House had its libel lawyers working overtime) to the heterosexual rich and famous who haunt, for obscure and kinky reasons of their own, the gay scene. (Which isn't "gay," isn't good, isn't remotely happy.)
Forty-year-old Lemish, until his belated and unconvincing ephipany-which reads suspiciously like the lastminute inspiration of an editor intent on a moralistic ending-carries on wildly and witlessly and in ripe detail about "secret cavorting in the dens and vicepots and cesspools of the underground faggot world . . . experiencing Everything to the fullest."
But I doubt that he'll have many readers-heterosexual or homosexual-cheering him on his grotesque pilgrim's progress. He's just not a sympathetic character. For one thing, he choose to tell his mother, Algonqua Lemish, that he's "a faggot" when she is in the hospital, having had "her left tit lopped off." He's not pleased with her reaction: "The old lady looked sad . . . 'I only want you to be happy,' she finally said." Six months later, Algonqua, whom he refers to as the "Gobbling Turkey," has "her other tit . . . biopsied and reprieved"; once again Fred is in a puling, whining, groaning frenzy of self-pity-this time because she, lying in her hospital bed, is not receptive to a descriptive book on homosexuality which he's given her. Meanwhile, he wonders why nobody loves him.
On the one hand, Lemish, like every other "faggot" in this novel, considers himself part of a privileged elite minority, a participant in arcane rites and partaker of "narcotic beauty." On the other hand, he, like almost everyone else in the book, casts about for someone to blame . Is it his "dumb dodo of a daddy" or his "whizbang whammerino of a Ma?" Is it "men and their insecurities that made him queer and bent and faggot," or women with their "demanding strings attached for payments on demand" who are responsible for his condition?
It's worth mentioning that when Fred and his pals aren't busy bartering their bodies, or taunting the "straight" world-and looking for vengeance because they themselves are not straight-they are to be found working out in gyms. (Which is boring.) If they're not "thin and gorgeous," it's all over for them. So, are we meant to feel sorry for people who are both narcissistic and self-loathing (and self-justifying)? Are we meant to share Kramer's fascination and revulsion with them?
I can't think what Kramer had in mind. (Money, maybe; his book is being hyped and will probably sell.) Nor can I think that anybody but Anita Bryant and her crowd will be made happy be this book; it will serve to confirm all their wicked propagandistic nonsense. If Kramer had written with any kind of ironic detachment, or with any compassion, I shouldn't feel obliged to say that this is the work of a cynic who has done the homosexual community an enormous disservice. What makes matters worse is that, through the sensational trash, one sees glimmers of good writing. I wish that that good writer would come out of the closet-minus the whips and chains.