The most difficult reviews to write are about books that made you go meh.
If you love a book, or if you hate a book, it’s easy to review. The problem then is choose what to write about from the wide range of things you want to say. There’s the danger that you’ll gush on too long about how wonderful something is or fall into a rant about how terrible. But once you’ve said ‘meh’ what else is there to say?
There used to be a lot of books like William Mann’s The Men from the Boys. Circa late 1980’s to the early 2000’s, back in the days when there were still lots of LGBT bookstores in America, four in San Francisco alone. Before the internet came along.
Lots of LGBT book stores, lots of LGBT readers anxious for books about their own lives, lots of books. Some of the books were great, some of them not so great.
Quite a few of them were like William J. Mann’s The Men from the Boys. Quality writing, not exactly literature, but entertaining stories about LGBT life. What made them of interest was that no one had written about our lives before, at least that’s how we saw it. Most of our lives aren’t really great literature, just lives. We wanted to read about our own lives and with so many readers shopping in so many bookstores, there was room for all sorts of books.
The Men from the Boys is about a trio of friends, two are long term lovers in an open relationship. The third is the former lover of one and a long time friend of the other. The narrator, Jeff, is worried Lloyd is losing interest in their relationship, that he wants to leave. Both are somewhat involved with other men whom they are also in loved with. Their long term friend, the third person in their complicated relationship, is an older man who is fighting a losing battle with AIDS.
In a way, The Men from the Boys succeeds because it’s not art. Instead of literature, instead of a plot driven novel, which the book could have been, The Men from the Boys reads like an account of an ordinary life, events follow upon events, not in a way that builds dramatic tension, but in a way that reflects real life. Relationships, jobs, friendships, sexual encounters, housing problems, medical treatments, activism. The stuff of regular life for so may of us in the 1990’s. A time-capsule found in a second-hand bookstore.