No Tokens Accepted
© by SuZi, 2/20/07
(for Patrick Fitzgerald: November 1959 –February 2007)
Bapst, Don. firstname.lastname@example.org Modern Marquis. 2006.
That which is taboo has been so much a part of literature – even American literature – that taboo topics are truly an artistic tradition. Unfortunately, serious consideration of stigmatized topics still arouses much social ire; there are plenty of provincials who become apoplectic if their padded-room, never-neverland nostalgia shows a gossamer reality. It is because of these minions of vitriol that art is shackled and gagged in our current climate. Because we live in a decade of deep deception, the corporate purveyors of culture push forth various marionettes programmed to please. Don’t be fooled by such tokenism.
Despite the Pier One popularity of those cute Queer Eye queens, gay folks are still stigmatized, and this is not because of the inclusive reference enjambment of Gay-Lesbian-Bi-Tran (GLBT) that can be found in publications sensible of their wide readership. We live in a death-worshiping patriarchal culture that glorifies needless consumption and environmental destruction. Ours is a culture of rape and hate. The American human male is, by stereotype, a cow-chewing, gasoline-burning, gun-toting, woman-beating, drunken, predatory cannibal of his own children –an uncomfortable paradigm which ought to offend any thinking person. What also ought to offend, and which unfortunately does not, is the stereotype of the frowsy gay man who prefers housedresses to garden tools. Although the Queer Eye boys and other Broke-Back cowboys have done much for enhancing the offerings of the demon, cable TV (and improved the aesthetic out here in the tractor-towns and x-urbs) the local book franchise will not order a title of a taboo author without neoMcCarthyist protocol.
(A note to the über-urban: this writer has witnessed gay men marrying women for social reasons, long-term GLBT people who refer to their life-partner as “my room mate”, school-bullying even at the college level, the picketing of the local Pride picnic and –most insultingly—an employee sensitivity training seminar that encourages participants to “celebrate our gay friends”….The closet has become a bomb shelter).
Any reader with integrity ought to reject the tokenism hoisted up the halyard out of hand. Consider the recent resurgence toward Capote—surely more than one gay man put pen to paper in America. Lest we forget the permanent position at book shops by Sedaris, remember how another ostracized minority viewed the necessity of humor for acceptance before a certain well-spoken reverend became an American martyr.
As readers, we ought to read everything – even that which requires some doing in the getting. If the purveyors of corporate culture refuse their imprint to those who will not pose, then the mindful reader becomes the champion of the small press, the end user of internet excerpts and imported information.
Gay literature is a necessity of literature, deserving a readership both in and beyond the confines of gay culture. Nonetheless, the standards any experiences reader expects of a good read are not forfeit because the work originated from an ostracized faction.
Consider a novel with an all male cast of characters: the novel is a romance, but two of the protagonists bear authentic monikers rather than the slushy phallic names so common to the supermarket-oriented non-texts. ( In fact, the romance novel is a literary form with a two century tradition that includes most European languages)
If we are post-modern enough to consider a text that includes all-male and romance, then the post-modern epistolary structure of the novel is sure to please.
Although author Don Bapst did not overtly concern himself with the protocols of post-modernism, the novel’s structure was a consideration of precision : “ [ I did] not diverge from the structure of the original book in any way” Bapst said by telephone recently. “Every action in the original [French novel] has an action…there’s an email to match every letter in the original novel.”
Post-modern retellings of texts have mostly been the working ground of cinema, and there was a movie made of the La Clos novel. Bapst was more concerned with keeping the authenticity of the original, endeavoring to transpose the characters from the French aristocracy into 21st century America, and seeking to be true to “these same souls.”
Through the exchange of emails, the characters exist in a cyberspace setting that assumes familiarity with Los Angeles and New York City. Additionally, those readers familiar with gay culture will find certain turns of phrase especially succulent. With the franchising of ghetto dialect, such similes as “ You act like a helpless little girl who lost her mommy at the supermarket”(130) seem fresh and very much valid.
Squeamish readers will find Bapst’s treatment of some of the raw and dark aspects of the characters’ culture to be paradoxically palatable: HIV is as real in these pages as it is in our world. One of Bapst’s characters comments : “I’ve seen it all a thousand times in my work with people affected by HIV. The whole crisis could be eradicated forever if people remembered their own humanity and social responsibility”(206).
What fascinates about this novel is its ease at telling the unsettling. One protagonist is so painfully naïve and questing in his sexuality that his gayness becomes secondary to Bapst’s accuracy in portraying the intense humiliation that unfortunately is ubiquitous to teenage sexuality experienced by any American kid these days. Other characters show a ruthlessness that would be appalling if it weren’t for Bapst’s/LaClos’ sage strategy of many voices in the I-persona. We tolerate their abominable manipulations of other people’s lives because we are subject to their open charm. Surely, an employee-entrenched email user would relish being able to write “God, I am so fucking sick of these damn drama queens with all their baggage”(123) on any given Tuesday.
Bapst’s novel –- albeit about our lesser pantheon of heroes, the fashionistas –- is a suave and subtle work that contains consideration of issues whose darkness shadows each of us. The novel rises beyond subculture; we would be foolish to allow our stigmas to silence a story so handsome.
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