History and melodrama combine in this brisk novel centered on the murder of gay rights political advocate Harvey Milk.
Charles, a poet and English professor at the University of Montana, dramatically addresses an important era in San Francisco history with this tale of equality and sexual liberation. At the helm of his novel is Christopher Mann, a closeted gay man who moves to San Francisco in 1978 to begin law school after months of career and personal indecisiveness. Though he chalks up his clandestine gay tendencies to “experimentation, like dropping acid or parachuting,” Mann’s burgeoning homosexuality continues to simmer throughout law school against a revolutionary backdrop of changing societal mores. Impressively drawn supporting characters march in, adding flair and personality to Charles’ companionable narrative. Among them are Mann’s new best buddy, Jim Reilly; Gordo, a Hispanic homeless man with a secret history; Mexican-American student and Jim’s fiancee, Laura Esquival; and Wendy, another first-year student, who ends up interning for a legislator and becomes knee-deep in the historic anti–gay-teacher initiative, Proposition 6. Personal opinion heats up Mann’s torturous law classes and his personal life, a confused space he still hasn’t worked out while sleeping with Wendy. Ultimately, what drive the novel are the author’s impressive exploration of Mann’s internal struggle with his orientation, his parents’ generational divide, and the region’s embroilment in the prickly sexual politics of the late 1970s. Atmospheric and historically accurate, Charles’ memorable set pieces include Mann’s fidgety first time in a gay bar and a forbidden beachfront tryst with Jim, which ultimately sabotages his engagement. Perhaps most compelling is the pivotal era in which the novel is set, a time when Harvey Milk became the first openly gay Bay Area elected official while homophobic opponents such as Anita Bryant, Jim Briggs, and city supervisor Dan White staunchly advocated public intolerance. Charles expertly weaves his characters into the era’s drama while compassionately addressing issues such as coming out, bigotry, and the struggle for equality.
A lucid, gratifying novel with appeal for both LGBT readers and anyone interested in a particularly pivotal slice of San Francisco history.