“Got ‘til it’s Gone”
By Larry Duplechan
ISBN No. 978-1-55152-244-9
By Daniel Allen Cox
ISBN No. 978-1-55152-246-3
Both available at www.arsenalpulp.com
If two things can start a trend then it’s safe to say that Fall Fiction has just gone gay.
"Got 'til it's Gone" really is about the love that dares not speak its name - if only because so few books speak about the midlife gay black man experience. The man doing the speaking is Johnnie Ray Rousseau and “Got ‘til it’s Gone” is his fourth appearance in Larry Duplechan’s series of Johnnie Ray books.
This time around Johnnie is having a midlife crisis and being a Daddy to a much younger guy. What follows are lots of Johnnie’s contemplations on life, love and popular culture. The best part of the book? Oddly enough, when Johnnie is cruising online. I dunno, there’s something novelistic and solitary about reading about characters separated from each other and typing away in chat rooms. Duplechan does a great job conveying this sense of being in a big city and still feeling lonely; of having all your options open and still feeling trapped. Unfortunately, his characters keep distracting themselves from the Big Sadness by watching TV, listening to music or reading magazines. They’re not pioneers; they’re archivists.
Remember the young man with the Daddy issues in “Got ‘til it’s Gone”? Well, he could be the narrator of “Shuck”, if he were just a bit more nihilistic, self-deluding and full of himself.
“Shuck” has the best beginning of any novel I’ve read in a long while. Its narrator plays anthropologist for us, re-writing the cruising ritual at the local supermarket.
“See how he cruises you like a piece of fruit, and how disappointed he is when you don’t give him the signal,” he writes. “He dumps the taco shells and ice cream in the magazine rack, and leaves empty-handed.”
Unfortunately, our narrator spends a LOT of time at the magazine rack himself; either mentioning the products he wants to place (“Star Trek”) or ticking off the things he thinks readers of gay fiction want to read about (a young guy appraising his own genitalia). Eventually the narrator’s neediness exhausts the readers’ interest. Yes, some of it adds to the 1990s New York time period. And some of it is left over from Bret Easton Ellis. You’ll finish the book; it’s that interesting. It’s just that it could have been so much better.
And therein lies the problem with “Got ‘til it’s Gone”, “Shuck” and a lot of gay fiction.
They so want their readers to be in sync with their sentences that they shortcut their way to any emotional impact by referencing movies, music, magazines and – in the unforgiving case of “Got ‘til it’s Gone” - Idiot Rapper, Flavor Flav! Even the first-person narration seems a bit calculated. What should read like friendly chat or deepest confession comes off like a sales pitch, a product placement shopping list. Yes, I know the technique suggests an over-stimulated culture and its resulting pessimism but it doesn’t make it any easier to search between the lines for the stuff that makes these books deserve to be books: the human stuff.