I should have known better, browsing my local library for gay men's fiction, than to check out Andrew W.M. Beirle's The Winter of our Discothèque (Kensington Books, 2002). The summary in the book jacket should have prompted me to immediately return the canary-yellow volume to the shelf from whence it came; it sounded like a summary of a faggoty Harlequin Romance. I will share with you a sample of this excellent American Literature:
Before his eighteenth summer, Tony Alexamenos was content to spend his mornings riding the waves, his afternoons pumping gas, and his nights secretly lusting after bronzed surfer boys. The day that changes everything begins like any other, with a car pulling into the station . . . [Hurrying out,] he never dreams that inside is a would-be fairy godfather who is about to transform his life...
This scintillating introduction continues:
For it is away at college that Tony meets Connecticut Jones, a young professor who, though deeply closeted, is far from immune to Tony's charms. When a prestigious fellowship falls into Connecticut's lap, he heads for New York City--with Tony in tow...
Disgustingly, this continues at some length, covering both the front and back overleaf with a plot summary that sounds more like the synopsis of a porno flick than that of a literary work. Needless to say, the fact that I brought this lepiduus libellus home with me says volumes (excuse the pun) about my desperation for queer lit. My dismay, in fact, only began to flourish once I made it about a third of the way into the text.
The most unfortunate fact about Discothèque is that in a technical, stylistic sense the writing is quite good. In fact, had the author had more skill, tact and grace it would have been quite an excellent little book; unfortunately, however, the literary sins of Mr. Beierle are too densely arrayed to win pardon on account of his palatable prose. On the literary level alone, Discothèque is guilty of a kind of grotesque infidelity to reality which populates its pages with god-beautiful men whose lives seem to consist solely of falling into bed with one another without fear of disease, statutory rape laws or (God forbid) emotional commitment. Tony (His Christian name is Antinous--yes, he's Greek--notice the supremely graceful effort on the part of the author to appear educated?), for instance, is supremely handsome, endured a weepingly Dickensian childhood at the hands of a drunken father and foster mother who would make Hitler look like Gandhi; his soon-to-be lover, Connecticut, is the son of a Polish physicist who survived a Nazi internment camp and who is himself a child prodigy. The author goes on at length about how the esteemed Connecticut earned his Ph.D at the age of twelve and read the Encyclopedia Britannica end-to-end at three; the all-seeing Dallas Eden is fantastically rich and finances a harem of succulent young men during the 1960s decade. After screwing him once, Tony is convinced that he is madly in love with our brilliant State Quarter and we endure his weepy commentary regarding his eventual rejection by that same individual, who--I must mention--treated him like a dirty secret from the inception. The fact that Antinous didn't walk out on him after the first date is a failing in character of a boy who is otherwise generally intelligent if two-dimensional.
Beyond the literary level--beyond, that is, the cheesy plot elements, the cardboard characterization, the glamorous and decadent depiction of an era in gay history that was neither and the consistent feeling of dirtiness I had as long as I had that trollopy little volume open in front of me, I have serious issues with the moral character of the book. Primarily, I can see one reason and one reason only for Mr. Beierle to have set Discothèque in the 1960s: AIDS was virtually unknown at that time, so he could feel at liberty to expound, for 392 charming pages, upon a wet-dream fantasy world where the boys are hot and the sex is completely without prophylactic interference. Thus, chapter after chapter, the world glitters, glitzes, and is seemingly populated with thousands of flamingly homosexual men who fear neither being beaten to bloody jellies by bat-wielding neo-nazis nor catching one of the half-dozen venereal strains that did exist in that hoary decade. This is a world of sexual incontinency, of brute lust; here there is no platonic love that blossoms into intimacy, only the mindless fucking of inverted male animals in rut. Here, love is about sex and sex only. Here, the homosexual in the arts, the homosexual in the sciences has no value unless he is handsome. It is the morally unhinged victory of lust over the mind, the culmination of a trend already disturbing and deeply-rooted in gay culture from its inception. What if a heterosexual were to pick up this book? I am disgusted--what would that poor man feel? Would I allow my mother to read ths book? Would I allow my hypothetical adopted child? This is not my culture, my friends, and I fear for the soul of he who holds it as his.
My advice to Mr. Beierle is that he ought to write in the modern decade and with sensibilities not gleaned from The Best Gay Erotica of 2003. His prose is blameless, but I must find quarrel with the ends he chooses to turn it. It is this kind of material--and the kind of mentality that creates it, in gommorhaeic parody, in a thousand incarnations in our nation's major cities--that will prevent gay men from finding social acceptance in a heterosexual world.