book review

The Tomcat Chronicles

So my good friend B gave me this book - he had just finished reading it and told me it was interesting because of the author’s involvement in the history of pre-Stonewall gay liberation movements.

B also said that the guy was part of the Mattachine Society, founded in the 60s, and that he knows Curtis Dewees, a former member who is still alive and living in São Paulo. That was cool, so I took up reading the story of a young man becoming a gay pioneer.

I told friends about these selling points, thinking it was gonna be sort of a documentary, but what I got was Jack traveling for a couple years and 200 pages, and when vacation was over he got a husband and then started working on his social crusade.

The story is about how Jack was handsome and was non-stop scoring in the 60s, and in 2017 it’s hard not to think that some shit in it would never fly today - especially when the idyllic hillbillies he loved so much are today's rednecks from Trump's America.

It was hard to suspend disbelief on this written world of beautiful people and Jack`s ability to score with whomever when I don’t think he was that good looking. 

If you think about it, Jack was just a plain white guy in the 60s fawning over studs and even himself. So it can get obnoxious when he paints himself as an intellectual and very different from the hillbillies that he fetishizes.

All the stud talk distracted me of the underlying plot of the Mattachine Society and its purpose - it flew over my head between all the hooking and "graceful prose". If my friend B put me in contact with the former member of the society in São Paulo, I wouldn't have anything to say or ask about it.

Through the very last pages I was like, “So the book is almost over and the guy didn’t talk much about his politics”. Then the book ends and the last page plugs his various essays and memoir. Maybe I’ll check them in the future.

I was sold on a “gay pioneer story” and didn’t get it because Jack is barely engaged with anything but cruising. It was only after finishing the book that I realized it was not that serious - both covers, the preface and even the author advertise it as a bunch of sex stories.

The point is - If you read for social studies it’s very underwhelming, but if you read it as pulp fiction, it’s good!

I mean, just LOOK at the cover.

I mean, just LOOK at the cover.

The cover features Jack over a painting of a naked dude doing a yoga pose on a beach, which I understood after reading the credits. It's romance novel art, and kinda all over the place - was yoga big in the 60s? But once you start reading you’ll get its intention.

As gay pulp fiction, this book it's not bad! The cover is, tho, but hat's what you get when you don't hire  Elaine Duillo .

As gay pulp fiction, this book it's not bad! The cover is, tho, but hat's what you get when you don't hire Elaine Duillo.

The vintage setting is cool - drinks at gay and lesbian bars that closed at 1 am, beehive hairstyles, the start of black lib and the first gay march, and even an inside scoop at a Nazi party. Lots of colorful images of the gay sixties are there.

Jack is a total top and bottoms once in the whole book. He sucks a lot of dick, tho. He says that in the sixties there was such a stigma with bottoming that the guys would gossip about them brownie queens, imagine that. At least he wasn't all #masc4masc about it.

The writing is tacky (it’s expected in this genre) and all the asses are "white perfectly round mountains", but through the fantasies about beach bodies there are some issues that we can relate to today, like renting shabby places with roommates and dealing/dating with guys on the DL who aren’t interested in openness or “fighting the good fight”.

Speaking of pulp, Jack goes meta and fashions himself as the one-arm hooker in Tennessee Williams’ One Arm. I tried to find its original cover but couldn’t, so I saw a match in this one until I realized that the guy does have both arms, they are just drawn funny. Oh well.

This is the backcover and all the praise that got me mixed up about the content. And Jack’s questionable moustache.

This is the backcover and all the praise that got me mixed up about the content. And Jack’s questionable moustache.

Bottom line is, the book is kinda shallow in the social commentary department. I was pumped about activism and vintage queer issues and got too many pages of steamy stories. I don't know the author and I didn’t totally buy his embellished tale.

But if you just want vintage hot bottoms, go ahead, it's a rather quick and fun read, only the hotness factor is a bit tame by today’s standards. I read dirtier and more thrilling stories in Please Kill Me and Secret Historian, another gift from B that I highly recommend.