Memoirs of A Gay Boy by Edward Dale
Jeff is born in a small town in the American mid-west. He is gay and homosexuality in his community is legally and socially taboo. An adolescent affair is encouraged by a liberal librarian and flourishes in a special hidden place, but soon his clandestine relationship with Michael is revealed and the consequences affect Jeff for the rest of his tragically curtailed life.
This novel is an effective account of what it is like to live in a western nation where the code of honour can be as forceful as any fatwa or edict from the Taliban. After Jeff’s appalling 18th birthday present he faces a trauma that few of us would be able to endure. Yet gradually he rebuilds his life with the help of supportive adults and peers, giving truth to the Dan Savage adage: “It gets better”. But not for too long as this novel has a tragic end.
Memoirs gives us a vivid account of growing up in the mid-west in the nineties and the references to growing up gay and alone as a teenager ring true today. There’s the teacher crush, the fumbling under the table and the desperate urge for physical contact that we all recall as adolescents recognising that we were different. Jeff’s consequent struggles as he reaches adulthood relate to his dysfunctional teenage years with his blinkered parents.
While it’s easy to empathise with Jeff on some levels, however, the novel has several weaknesses. Told in the first person, Jeff’s narrative comes across as stiff and lacking in humour. Other characters are somewhat two-dimensional and the reader is left asking for more of the narrative. The denouement is far from uplifting and there were a lot of typos in the electronic version I read.
Overall, however, most people who grow up lesbian or gay will be able to relate to at least some of the events in this novel. On his birthday, Jeff is invited by his father literally to go and hang himself. This would have seemed too harsh for me until recently. But having met a Somalian refugee who, on coming out as a lesbian, was given 3 choices by her family (in descending order): 1. marry 2. commit suicide 3. or we’ll kill you, I realise what a small world it can be when you’re LGB.