Thursday, January 13, 2022

SAM, a truly surprising look at New York's gay world on the cusp of Liberation


Goodness Knows Who
99¢ Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.25* of five

The 1959 Reviewer Said: In ONE Magazine (pp23-24), "M.J.B." said of this surprising book:
Lonnie Coleman's satisfactory new romance is a perfect example of misconception, one held to a certain extent by the author, of realism: it is not, simply because the author is on occasion more specific than otherwise as to situation and explicit as to word, life without glamor and an expose of the sordid. SAM is a good honest love story wherein the hero finds or appears to find the man of his dreams. In the trappings of 20th century New York it is still the Victorian drama of Love Triumphant, and I, for one, am all for it.

Sam (the name is an obviously homely touch) is Samuel Kendrick, a publisher by disposition as well as heritage who lives luxuriously in Greenwich Village with his faithful man-servant, Custer, an old family retainer. Custer rightly disapproves of Walter Roland, a handsome but untalented actor who satisfies Sam's physical needs for the sake of his own comforts. His dearest friend is a former employee, Adeline, pregnant by her irate husband, Toby, who rightfully but unfairly and even viciously reacts to their friendship with brutality and sadism going beyond the pale.

Sam gives a large party to help Walter get a part in a new show, even though he is aware that if the part is Walter's he will have to give Walter up to the leading lady, an aging actress with a large following and a larger penchant for men younger than herself. The party crystallizes all the ill-feeling pent up in Toby, in Jane, a former girlfriend of Walter's, in the McKenzies (she is to produce the new play), and in Walter and Sam. Reeve Keary, an aging tante appears as a gadfly to worsen the situation. Walter goes off to the aging actress and Sam to the Turkish bath.

It is the adroit and capable handling of the situations that now evolve, the tragedies that ensue, the loves that slowly begin to emerge that makes SAM the pleasant reading that it is. For the people are recognizable and for the most part rather true to life, or to those portions of life that Mr. Coleman here has chosen to confine himself. Sam is a little wooden, Richard (who appears late in the book) is almost too good to be true, Toby is not completely realized and has all the cards against him, but with all this there is a certain native honesty that gives the book some distinction.

Unfortunately, the library of homosexual literature is so small that SAM will shape larger on our shelves than it might otherwise. In any case it would earn the space it took!

Think of it, a happy ending, and a touch of humor, too!


My Review
: First, read this:
"I don't like people the way I used to. I look at them sometimes on a street or in a theater and think: 'My God, what doltish sons of bitches you all are.' I get along with them, but they don't mean anything to me. You do. Walter does. Most of the others bore me. It's dangerous to feel that way about people. When you do, you've begun to die. Poor Reeve today. He was trying to be nice, and I've laughed with him a thousand times over just such things as he was saying. But I don't have the desire or energy any more."
He had known pain, but only his own. It was the first time he had felt another's pain, and he would never be entirely happy again. Happiness supposes security, and there is no security when mortality is comprehended.
Some hurts heal slowly, some quickly, and some never. Quickness of healing is not a measure of superficiality in a wound. Deep wounds may leave a negligible reminder, and slighter ones may, by their scars, proclaim a Civil War. So is it with emotional wounds and scars.

I don't know about you, but I feel Seen. Sam Kendrick, the hero either speaking or thinking these lines, is a younger...ouch...version of me. And the wonderful part is that I can shut the Kindle on him if he gets tiresome! Can't do that on your own sweet self, can you.

This book was not a hit in 1959, and it came out from a publisher not of the Top Drawer like Author Coleman worked for...Collier's...but did he know his people or what! I'll bet there wasn't a gay guy's coffee table that didn't sport that gawdawful lavender cover with its limp wrist on the front practically screaming, "FAGGOT!!" in Anno Domini 1959. It sported that rarest of things, a happy ending for its queers, and it was not the least bit shy or reticent about it. I don't know of many, if any, contemporaneous tomes with that claim to fame. The wonderful thing about that was the same then as now: A future is only possible when we believe it is, and seeing it in a book can be a lifeline. Someone GETS me! Someone IS me!

I'd like to think that, in the ten years between SAM coming out (!) and Stonewall, it helped men who flat could not imagine that people like them (load some extra venom on it, you know, so they don't miss the point!) could even aspire to happiness with someone they loved. I'd like to believe that it crept out of old boxes into young hands and entered young minds...nothing seriously salacious in these show them there's a future that is not bleak, solitary, miserably alone.

I surely hope it did.

And then, mirabile dictu, there is the almost-divinely-inspired definition of what we now call Found Family, or Made Family:
There was something else between Addie and Sam, something she could not explain but that she knew. It was what they meant when they said they were family to each other. It was a special intimacy provided by the sensitivity they felt to each other's thoughts and looks and words. The mystery of why it happened between Sam and Addie, and not between Sam and someone else, or Addie and someone else, would remain a mystery to the end of their days.

Probably the most important concept in the whole novel. Knowing that people could matter to you, could love you, could be there with you and for you because you're you not in spite of your being yourself, probably saved more lives than any other thing in these pages. Certainly not the smoking that literally everyone does on almost every page! Gawd has that not aged well.

There are characters in SAM whose very existence one wants to deny, but I'm here to tell you I've met every single one of these people in the flesh. Often had to be nice to them in spite of having the urge to fling them into the East River. I will say that, to a one, they got their just deserts in these pages and I couldn't be happier. There are people whose lives change after the almost criminally unfilmed Grand Party Scene so utterly, in such a contrived fashion, that I wonder how Author Coleman (he of Beulah Land fame, or infamy) thought he could get away with it. Oh, that reminds me: Gender and race relations are very much of their time. Author Coleman was one of those who called women "ladies" and Black folks "Negroes" but he was no forerunner of PC/Woke culture.

So, for a buck and knowing that it's not going to overload you with politics, I'd call this straight people safe and a worthwhile read for all of us 21st-century denizens who imagine this passage in history is Utterly Unique. Back when Cadillacs and glasses frames had fins, the world we think of as ours was pushing itself into being. Go on, risk the buck and the three hours!

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