A wide-ranging debut memoir about a gay man in San Francisco.
Speer has lived in San Francisco for almost 50 years, beginning as a struggling writer and eventually becoming a successful real estate broker. His love for his neighborhood, the Western Addition, flows through his memoir. There’s little Speer doesn’t know about the neighborhood, his neighbors, the machinations of city government, the political fights and so on. Speer, a gay man from Kansas City, came of age in the West Coast city famous for its tolerance, and readers will be immersed in that culture, too. The website for Speer’s real estate company proclaims “an emphasis on architecturally and historically significant buildings,” and that passion shows up here in spades: wonderful descriptions of houses and neighborhoods by a fierce preservationist who clearly knows and loves what he’s writing about. Speer comes across as involved, tolerant and generous in his feelings, but the memoir can sometimes feel overstuffed with heartfelt rememberings. In a biographical chapter, Speer quickly sketches the backgrounds of his spouse, John Wong, and their friend Ming Gee, but his own story begins with the Speer family’s first arrival on American shores, and then goes on for more than 30 pages. Chapters dedicated to the Western Addition will fascinate readers interested in urban studies, as will the latter half of the book, which catalogs features of the neighborhood and its organizations. But readers might get lost in the cast of characters amid all the thumbnail sketches of Speer’s friends and their dinner parties.
Enough material for multiple, engrossing memoirs—a Midwestern childhood, San Francisco gay culture, the history of a neighborhood—that don’t receive enough focus here.