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Book Review: Faggots by Larry Kramer


Drew Payne

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“2,556,596 faggots in the New York City area.” So begins Larry Kramer’s infamous novel. It is a strange opening for a novel but, in some way, is indicative of this one.

It is the late 1970s and this novel is an odyssey through gay New York life. The main protagonist is Fred Lemish, almost a gay everyman, who is just short of forty. He is searching for love, especially the love of the gay hunk Dinky Adams, but all he can find is promiscuous sex, recreational drug use and almost constant disappointment.

This novel has so many things in it that just don’t work. Firstly, the large cast of characters makes it difficult to follow, some of them not having enough time to develop and other characters who do not add much, if anything, to the plot and left me wondering why they were there. Then there are the sex scenes, the many, many sex scenes. Some of them do add to character development but many of them felt repetitive, by the end of the book I was feeling, “Not another sex scene.” I wanted to read the novel; I didn’t want the distraction of all this sex. But what wore me down, as a reader, was its unrelenting negativity. Nothing here works out well; no characters get close to a happy ending, all of them end up unhappy in their own different ways. In one scene, a romantic relationship is sabotaged before it can even begin, which felt almost nasty on the part of the author.

The characterisation here was so poor that I was left feeling frustrated. Characters are portrayed in a negative light for their actions, promiscuous sex and drug use, but there is little to no examination of why they are behaving like this. What is reinforcing such negative behaviour? This novel is set in 1978 New York and yet there is little discussion of the homophobia of that time, both external and internal. Homophobia then was more than systemic, it would have had a huge impact on these characters, it would have driven so much of their lack of self-worth, yet it is barely mentioned.

This novel felt less a satire on gay life and much more an expression of Larry Kramer’s distaste for a world that didn’t accept him and that is such a shame. With his plays The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me, Kramer showed he is a writer who understands characterisation. Those plays got under the skin of their characters and examined their situations. The Normal Heart examined the homophobia that was preventing fighting AIDS; The Destiny of Me examined the events that shaped the central character, a gay man facing his own morality and the fact that there was so little treatment, then, for HIV. None of that ability is on display in Faggots, if it had been maybe this novel would have been so much better.

Here Kramer tries to hold up a mirror to the world around him, unfortunately it is a distorting mirror that sneers back. Such a missed opportunity from a man who could be a great writer.

 

Find it here on Amazon

 

 

Faggots by Larry Kramer.jpg

Edited by Drew Payne

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I agree that Faggots was a hot mess, for a whole variety of reasons. It's clear from very early on that Kramer was simply angry that he didn't fit in with "mainstream gay life" of the time in New York. To me, it came across like he always wanted to be "the cool, pretty cheerleader everybody wanted to be around", but he couldn't be that, so he derided everyone instead. 

Thankfully he was a much better activist/hell-raiser then he was a novelist. 

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23 hours ago, TetRefine said:

I agree that Faggots was a hot mess, for a whole variety of reasons. It's clear from very early on that Kramer was simply angry that he didn't fit in with "mainstream gay life" of the time in New York. To me, it came across like he always wanted to be "the cool, pretty cheerleader everybody wanted to be around", but he couldn't be that, so he derided everyone instead. 

Thankfully he was a much better activist/hell-raiser then he was a novelist. 

I first read it as a teenager and, though all the sex scenes made a "big" impression on me, I found I couldn't identify with any of the characters and the ending left me so down. It was just as negative as what the homophobes, back then, were telling me gay life would be. I sort-of re-read it for this review (well I skipped through it) and sadly found my memory of it wasn't wrong.

I think Kramer always wanted to be one of the hot gays EVERYONE wanted to shag, and Heaven knows he wasn't.

I also think he was a much better playwriter than he was anything else, he wrote two great plays (to my knowledge, because I haven't read his first one) and two great screenplays, but maybe that was because he HAD to work with other people to have them produced, the final draft wasn't just down to him.

One interesting thing I found out, only just before he died, was that his partner for the second half of his life (long after this book was published) was the man who was the bases of the super gay hunk Dinky Adams, in this book, who the central character didn't end up with.

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On 4/4/2022 at 1:59 PM, Drew Payne said:

One interesting thing I found out, only just before he died, was that his partner for the second half of his life (long after this book was published) was the man who was the bases of the super gay hunk Dinky Adams, in this book, who the central character didn't end up with.

Full disclosure:

Apparently Kramer and said partner (David Webster) had originally had a relationship in the 70s, but it ended somewhere before 1978 - and that split is in turn what inspired the book.

They'd get back together in 1991 - and then, in turn, were together for the rest of Kramer's life.

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On 4/7/2022 at 2:29 AM, MJ85 said:

Full disclosure:

Apparently Kramer and said partner (David Webster) had originally had a relationship in the 70s, but it ended somewhere before 1978 - and that split is in turn what inspired the book.

They'd get back together in 1991 - and then, in turn, were together for the rest of Kramer's life.

I think the fact that they got back together in 1991 and were together for the rest of Kramer's life is far more interesting then the plot of this book. I wish he had written about that relationship, with the insight he showed in The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me.

Thanks for the details.

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