A young gay poet escapes the Jim Crow South for Harlem and then Paris, discovering himself along the way.
Ben Charles grows up poor and loveless in a black community in rural Georgia. He has “this thing” to deal with—he’s attracted to boys, not girls. Eventually he runs away, and on the train north, he meets someone else escaping sorrow and scandal—Angeline. Both 15 and alone, Ben and Angeline agree to marry and take on New York together. He works in a hotel, she in a beauty salon. But “this thing,” of course, won’t go away. Ben tries to escape by writing poetry. But one night in a hot jazz club, he meets Baby Back, a trumpeter from South Carolina with dreams of Paris. Angeline doesn’t stand a chance. Ben and Baby Back sail away, but before they’re even off the boat, Baby Back is straying. He’s selfish, abusive, controlling, and narcissistic. Ben learns French, experiences the relative equality black people enjoy in France (although white jazz fans treat them like exotic pets), makes friends, and tries to forget his past. In a fairly predictable manner, things go poorly for him. And then things go well. None of the love interests seem believable except for Ben’s friendship with Angeline, forged by loss and a common desire to survive. The graphic sex, drugs, and drinking won’t be to everyone’s taste. Meaningful issues of race and sexual identity are lost in the silly plot.
There’s some historical interest here, but overall, this is a fairly formulaic love story.