“How Long Has This Been Going On?”–a panorama of gay life

Mordden, Ethan. “How Long Has This Been Going On”.St. Martin’s, 1995.

A Panorama of Gay Life

Amos Lassen

Ethan Mordden has written a panoramic view of gay life up until the early 90’s and it is a moving tale, The book is made up of the accounts of fictional characters whose lives come together and give a picture of gay men and lesbians from 1945-1991 as well as a picture of changing America. Mordden’s main accomplishment is that he is able to maintain our interest and he is coherent in a very long book—590 pages. Granted it is not an up to date study but it tells us how it was.

The characters are sympathetic even with their peculiarities and failures. Albeit that I have read complaints that the novel is too long, artificial and highbrow, I must disagree. I loved the book as it reminded me of so much. I have read also that the dialog between the characters is contrived and unnatural but I found it to be expressively true. The intellectuals and the activists seem to speak one way while  the more down to earth characters speak another—isn’t that true in life? Mordden uses the diction and phraseology to distinguish his characters and this is important in the stylized portraits that he presents. He authentically captures the essence of his characters through their dialog. His characters are convincing and engaging, the setting is very familiar—the world in which we live and have lived in.

The book is a sprawling history from the closeted, secretive early 40’s and the 50’s

to the start of gay liberation with Stonewall in 1969. to the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and ends at a gay pride parade in New York in 1991. It s vast and a beautiful chronicle as it captures the true beat of gay life with no apologies.

A book like this is not just to be read—it is to be savored. It is Mordden’s skill as a writer that keeps it afloat.


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