Lavender Boys by S.E. Taylor
Brock Evans heads for Hollywood in 1935, hoping to be the next Clark Gable, and meets another would-be star in Randy Pearce, who works as a soda jerk while awaiting his big break. It’s love at first sight, just like in the movies. But the path to stardom in Hollywood is not quite that easy. Brock finds a job as a florist shop delivery man and gets to meet some of Hollywood’s favorites, one of which finally gets him a screen test at a major studio.
Randy finds an agent who gets him a screen test, too. It turns out Randy is a ‘natural,’ but the big studios don’t want any more homosexual male stars after some previous bad experiences. What kind of Hollywood ending is in store for Randy and Brock, who are hiding their romance, their secret trips to the Lavender Lounge homosexual bar, and their homosexual boss and landlord with whom they live?
I initially was attracted to this book because I love “old” Hollywood of the 1930s. Unfortunately this version relies on campy humor and outrageous antics in an atmosphere where almost everyone is gay or tolerant. Adding to the problem is the poor writing, which relies on repetitive dialogue, annoying endearments, and the severe overuse of exclamation points. Furthermore the plot is wandering without purpose or focus, not bothering to develop the characters or their drive. Although the book is 138 pages (54k words), nothing really happens and all the action is told to the reader with nothing shown. This was a difficult book to finish and I probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the review. I unfortunately wouldn’t recommend this book.
The story opens with Brock Evans, wannabe actor from near Chicago, hitting on a soda fountain waiter. The obvious pass is accepted and then Brock wanders over to get a job at the local florist shop where he’s hired because he looks almost exactly like Clark Gable and the shop’s owner likes to look at pretty boys. Here there is an awkward and pompous mini speech where the owner, Henry, admits he’s a homosexual but wouldn’t hit on Brock. He just wants Brock’s looks for his Hollywood clients. So within the first few pages Brock has a new boyfriend, incredible job, and we’ve been told he looks like a famous movie star. These statements are repeated ad nausea throughout the rest of the story as Brock and his new boyfriend Randy, eventually move in with Henry, each tries to be an actor, and meet all kinds of famous people (all gay and/or tolerant).
None of the characters are well characterized and they are all caricatures. There is the older gay man in Henry who wants the boys around because they are fun and adorable. Of course the reader isn’t shown any of this as a chapter begins with the boys suddenly both living and working for Henry. How this came about is never told or shown. Additionally Randy and Brock are flat, boring, and exaggerations. They speak in excited giggling, rambunctious prose that are meant to convey a humorous, fun tone to their dialogue. Instead they came across as ridiculous, slightly unintelligent, and completely campy –not in a good way either. Their constant use of “Sugar!” and “Baby!” got annoying very fast and their dialogue is almost always punctuated with an exclamation mark to show just how excited and fun they are. I didn’t find their actions or words interesting or humorous and thus never quite got why immature sex jokes and references were cause for hilarious laughter.
The little action that does happen is predictable and obvious. There is a very brief pseudo-gay bashing scene that is completely set up. Telling a young gay man to stay on a sidewalk alone in the middle of the night, well anyone could predict the next action. Scenes like this seem to be thrown in for no real reason and have very little connection to anything. The entire atmosphere is one of extreme tolerance as almost everyone is gay or likes the boys. Randy and Brock tell just about everyone they are lovers and the famous Hollywood actors they meet all love the boys. A lot of the Hollywood names used are depicted as gay and everyone loves Brock instantly for resembling Clark Gable’s twin. Thus the few anti-gay scenes that are thrown in seem to be out of place and have no real connection to the story or characters. Similarly the use of the epitaph “faggot” is out of place in an overwhelmingly gay positive atmosphere.
The lack of drive for the characters is punctuated by scene after scene of random action. These scenes are remarkably similar to each other and show various stars playing the same joke on each other –pretending Brock is really Clark Gable- or the numerous sex scenes where Brock and Randy seem to delight in gluing themselves together with their bodily fluids. Once again the action is almost universally told and not shown and the chapters begin in a new month, jumping ahead without the benefit of the reader catching up. The young men go about their lives but it is only through the direction of others that anything happens for them. Numerous other people delight in the two men, for reasons unknown since neither character is developed beyond a very sketchy one dimension. Thus stars and well to do people alike all work to create a great life for Brock and Randy, who are more than happy to go along for the ride. They do make a few decisions on their own but very few and often the men are all too happy laughing and giggling over sexual innuendo.
Sadly the writing just did nothing for me as the sex scenes were unattractive and often boorish. The dialogue attempted to be humorous and campy but never really pulled off that deft touch of whimsy and wit. So the prose ends up being repetitive, flat and lacking any descriptive quality. The lack of purpose to the various scenes or even a connective thread had this feeling very disjointed and unimaginative. The main characters themselves had very little emotional or physical chemistry, which ruined even the attempt at romance. The few mentions of famous and classic Hollywood stars were the brief highlight, even as they are all depicted as gay or tolerant. Unfortunately I can’t recommend the book so I’d suggest you skip this one entirely.