WANDERING HEART: A GAY MAN'S JOURNEY by John Loomis

WANDERING HEART: A GAY MAN'S JOURNEY

Book One: The Search
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this debut memoir, a gay man recalls his difficult search for love, self-acceptance, and peace while grappling with depression and alcoholism.

In 1933, Loomis was born into discord. His father, Glenn, pressured his mother, Jean, to get an abortion, but she refused. Glenn treated his son with coldness and emotional cruelty, telling him as a small child, “We hate you. We’re going to take you back where we found you….If you ever tell anyone what I said, I’ll cut off both your hands.” (Years later, working in Glenn’s machine shop, Loomis had to fight back an urge to mutilate his own hands in the equipment.) Jean, like many in her family, suffered from alcoholism and was highly controlling, Loomis writes. He grew up feeling worthless. These feelings were worsened when he began feeling attracted to other boys, a subject of mystery and shame. Even masturbation was off-limits, according to Loomis’s religious instruction: “many times I promised myself that I would commit suicide if I ever masturbated again,” he writes. In all this turmoil, Loomis did receive comfort from occasional spontaneous spiritual experiences—a mystical blending with the divine—which gave him intervals free of guilt, anger, and anxiety. Loomis attended Rice Institute and Cornell University Medical College and opened a prosperous Park Avenue psychiatric practice. Meanwhile, he began a risky search for love and connection while trying to dodge (not always successfully) gay bashers and undercover policemen. Loomis met and lived with longtime partner John Puckett, though they broke up after 10 years together, the relationship strained by Puckett’s promiscuity. In 1972, an inheritance and professional success allowed Loomis to retire at only 39, though mourning many losses and still struggling to overcome depression and alcoholism.

Loomis’ memoir is fairly engaging, seldom becoming melodramatic or overindulging in tedious score-settling. (If anything, he can be forgiving to a fault.) Young people today who take for granted gains like marriage equality, positive gay characters on TV, or sports stars who are out and proud might find a useful history lesson in seeing how genuinely lonely and dangerous it was to be gay, even in big cities like New York. Though the memoir focuses more on Loomis’ struggles than his successes, it does offer some intriguing glimpses of wealthy pre-AIDS gay life in New York City: club life, Fire Island, or the evening Loomis and a friend “were both talking to and trying to seduce Gore Vidal.” Also intriguing are the many “strange and improbable coincidences, apparitions, incursions from the next world, and other entertaining surreal events.” Loomis reports, for example, seeing several ghosts and, once, hearing a wailing banshee that announced a death in the family. His story will continue in a planned next volume.

No groundbreaking insights but an addition to the literature on growing up gay in homophobic America.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4401-9825-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: iUniverse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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