Tuesday, March 30, 2004

I've respected Michael Bronski's journalism for years, esp. in Z Magazine and Publishers Weekly, but Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps is the first of his books I've read. (He's more famous as the author of Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility.) I'll definitely be reading more. Here he performs two amazing feats. First, after doing an extraordinary amount of background reading, he selects examples of gay pulp fiction from the 1940s through the 1970s, ranging from the surprisingly literary to campy porn. I worried that the excerpt approach would be frustrating, but Bronski has a real knack for setting the scene without spoiling or belaboring the point, and the excerpts are all satisfying on their own. Given that most of these novels are hard to find (now probably more so), this is a tremendous resource.

Second, he offers an introductory essay bursting with insight & nuanced introductions to every piece (sometimes with tantalizing information about the writers). He clearly understands the psychology of the reading experience, as he shares with us vital bits of the experience like cover copy and artwork, often noting when the outer descriptions fail to match up with what's inside the covers.

At the back, perhaps most valuable of all, he puts together an annotated timeline of highlights of gay male literature 1940-1969 which discusses works by the writers included in the book as well as more literary work (Genet, Vidal, Baldwin, etc.). It's an essential resource for further exploring. The later pieces are often pornographic, campy and silly (very entertaining, occasionally dark or hard-core) while some of the earlier pieces are generally more thoughtful, even literary, though sometimes downbeat. Bronski's selections always emphasize what was exceptional or unique for the time. *None* of these pieces are routine. My personal favorites are "Sam," "Spur Piece," "Lost on Twilight Road," "The Boys of Muscle Beach," "Song of the Loon," and "Gay Revolution" (in which the world is turning gay, Body Snatcher-style). "Maybe--Tomorrow" is disturbing yet somehow brilliantly hilarious. ("Muscle Beach" & "Gay Whore" are also very amusing.) My excitement about gay literature has been completely renewed. Bronski has eschewed the stuffy (often depressing) "classics" angle for a poppier approach of the smartest kind. At a minimum, every gay discussion group should read this book, but it should also appeal to adventurous non-gay readers.



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