A successful but lonely architect in early-1960s New York City begins a relationship with a much younger man during the early days of the gay rights movement in Horrigan’s (Portraits at an Exhibition, 2015, etc.) novel.
In 1962, Frederick Bailey lives in Manhattan, where he has a well-established career as an architect. At 48, he’s set in his ways and doesn’t believe in causes. His friend Deborah, however, has tried to get Frederick to protest the planned demolition of Penn Station with a preservationist group. But he notes that the station is a “sooty, baggy, ill-kept monster of a building, a confusing mixture of styles—faux classicism, Crystal Palace ostentation.” One night, Frederick helps a woman who’s been mugged, attracting the attention of Curt, a scrappy 20-year-old who makes romantic overtures toward him. Frederick, who’s closeted to family and most friends, agrees to a later rendezvous with Curt, who then stands him up. Months later, Frederick spots Curt at a museum and the two agree to meet again, thus beginning a long, somewhat-tumultuous relationship in which Frederick fears exposure and Curt recoils from monogamy. As Curt becomes involved with the Mattachine Society gay rights group, Frederick deals with personal issues, including his mother’s early signs of dementia. The couple embark on a European trip in 1964, and Curt’s fling with an Italian leads to a confrontation. Horrigan’s novel is convincingly at home in its time period, full of wonderful details and forthright opinions about architecture and art, family dynamics, and the fight over civil rights. The author keenly describes Frederick’s fears and his struggles to adhere to a false narrative regarding Curt as well as the punitive realities that gays experienced at the time. Although the reasons that Frederick is so tied to Curt could have been further explored, the author’s attempt to get into the psyche of a pre-Stonewall gay man is admirable. A touching scene with Frederick and his mother is also one of the novel’s highlights.
A frank yet subtle novel about the old and the new and about the steps that led to the gay rights movement.