Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: The Quest for Brian by Jeff Graubart

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by CreateSpace (November, 2010)
Pages: 744

In the early 1970s David Rosen learns that his boyfriend, Brian, lost his job as a teacher because the school board found out Brian was gay. That injustice launches David on a quest for gay liberation, and once on that path he finds the fight a consuming passion from which there seems no escape. But the noble fight for justice does not lift David to a higher plane, rather, he falls farther away from the man he loves and seems to lose every battle, every friend. Because of his extreme and eccentric views, both Brian and the fellow gay liberation fighters distance themselves from David. From Champaign-Urbana to Chicago, to California, and back to Champaign, David descends into a web of obsession, drug addiction and instability.

Much of this story is the author’s memoirs, so the reader becomes witness to actual historical events, heretofore unprinted, starting in the early 1970s and going until the White Night Riots in San Francisco when Dan White got away with murdering Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. This autobiographical historical fiction is an important work, and should raise questions in the soul of every reader, gay or straight, red neck or liberal.

This was not a read I enjoyed, but rather, a read I found interesting. Brian was not a likable character, but he had noble qualities and a sense of justice, which made him a good protagonist. He was a young gay man who somehow linked his unrequited love for Brian Powers with the Gay Liberation Movement, and David’s obsession with both led him down a path of drug addiction and a lust for violent resistance that I found distasteful, as did everybody else in this story. David soon found himself a pariah in the gay community, with nothing to grab onto but the fight.

The story chronicles David’s few successes and many failures throughout this turbulent decade. One of the things I found most interesting was the variety of different gay political groups, and their intrigue, backstabbing and infighting that was a constant theme. Groups would form and dissolve at the drop of a skirt, and seemed more social than political.

The main issue that kept me from enjoying the storyline is that I found the book to be completely over-written. I felt the author could have easily cut out three hundred pages, and the result would be a tighter and more interesting story. As it is, I often found myself wading hip deep in detail that didn’t add much to the story. This was a problem from page one to the end.

This is a long, slow, repetitive, and often entertaining read. I recommend it for those readers who are interested in seeing a unique view of one of the most important and volatile periods in gay history. The following is an excerpt from the book that shows what the political situation was at that time:

In the film Milk, many got their first glimpse of the gay rights struggles of the 70s. Were those struggles an exercise in futility? Consider the following about 1980:
-­It had been just six years since Los Angeles police were ordered to harass and arrest homosexuals.
-­It had been just eight years since many states had special camps for incarcerating homosexuals.
-­It had been just ten years since it was illegal for bartenders in New York City to serve homosexuals.
-­It had been just eleven years since it was illegal in Dade County, Florida, for three or more homosexuals to congregate in public.
-­It had been just twelve years since a Time Magazine poll showed that most Americans despised homosexuals more than murderers.
-­It had been just fourteen years since a respected judge on the Florida Supreme Court wrote in a ruling that Americans would view the death penalty far more favorably if it was used against homosexuals.
So, suppose there was no uprising. Suppose Bryant and Briggs and Walinsky had won. Suppose the religious right was at peak strength in 1980, instead of in tatters.
And then the plague came.

Anita Bryant, who was fired from the Florida Citrus Commission, divorced by her husband, ruined in her career as a singer, and driven into bankruptcy; but those who choose to use God to justify their prejudices had better take note.

For more information about his book or author, go to http://thequestforbrian.com/

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