MY FIRST SATYRNALIA by Michael Rumaker


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Anyone familiar with Rumaker's powerful, sometimes scarifyingly bleak stories of the '50s and '60s, collected in Gringos (1967), has some serious acclimating to do when faced with Rumaker's recent work: weak books in a gay genre, autobiographical and serious but shy. Here the first-person narrator has just come to New York for the day from his home upstate, planning to attend a Saturnalia celebration on the Lower East Side given by an all-male group of which he's a part, ""The Fairy Circle."" Ever the writer, though, he first checks out the gay bookstores that might be selling his new book--which leads him to a bookstore/peep-show palace down by the Hudson River. In a nightmarish backroom darkness, men pass in and out of the peep-show cubicles, mimicking the actions on the screens. The narrator has his share of these anonymous encounters (oral sex primarily), but he also tries to steal a few minutes to jot down some notes on the situation by the flickering light of the films. This is the novel's only interesting sequence--a funny yet discomforting scene, made more so by the narrator's essential reticence, his slant on such promiscuity as an ""illusory oasis."" Much more acceptable to him is the Saturnalia of his next stop, with its pagan, sensual exercises. Thus, dichotomy--quick and dark vs. light and loving--seems to be Rumaker's theme here. But his prose--which has gone from fine to dreadful over the past 20 years--makes it impossible to take any of it seriously: viperous spills of mother-hatred, lifeless erotic descriptions, ludicrous attempts at lyricism (""I embrace shins and calves, thighs, a million years of forebears standing in our legs, some heavily rough as oak, some smooth as birch bark, a stand of legs like saplings""). Indeed, Rumaker appears to have lost artistic grace while finding spiritual ease--and, despite the title, this novel is too tamely verbose to titillate and too passively earnest to involve.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1981
Publisher: Grey Fox Press--dist. by Subterranean Co. (P.O. Box 10233, Eugene, OR 97440)