Mann, William J. “Where the Boys Are”, Kensington Books, 2003.
Looking at Our Lives
William J. Mann has written some wonderful books and I have been a fan for a long time. Last year his biography of Katherine Hepburn wowed readers and this year’s “Men Who Love Men” is doing much of the same. Actually “Men” is part of a trilogy beginning with “The Men from the Boys’. The second is “Where the Boys Are” and it is incredible. Mann portrays gay men—their loves, their tribulations, and their mysteries. At the center are two men and their circle of friends and we read about the struggles they go through to find connections in one year of their lives. Mann peeks into the life of gay America and looks at hopes and dreams. He gives us gay society in a microcosm and he shows us that the feelings that all of us have are not unique.
Mann wrote in the first person through the eyes of three of his characters—Jeff, Henry and Lloyd who, although fictional, are probably based upon people he has already known. Each character manages to fill in the gaps missing in the others as each give different spins on the same event. What we get is a novel that is both readable and one we are able to relate to as it compels us into affirming our place on earth. The complexities of urban gay life are all presented here in a way that stereotypes lose their places and are replaced by multi-dimensional characters filled with humanity.
It helps to have read the prequel, “The Men from the Boys” because the characters are the same, but it is not absolutely necessary in order to enjoy the book. The main characters compel us to keep reading and Mann’s insights into gay culture are amazing. He shows how we grow and mature and he describes accurately the hardships involved in maintaining communication which is so necessary to build stable relationships.
Reading the book is a trip down memory road. The way he looks at our lives as we pass from the stage of idealistic youth to aging, the drug culture and our relationships is very real and very familiar. To see my life through the eyes of someone else is strange but it offered a perspective that made me enjoy every word written. I looked at my past and my present and came to terms with issues that I had never confronted before or simply did not want to. The book also made me realize how important my chosen “family” is to me.
Mann’s eye on a culture that is set upon escaping reality is right on the button. He has developed his voice and writing style and he speaks directly to us. His issues transcend sexuality and give us a sense of connection. The characters, like us, are not perfect. Their flaws are our flaws and the book is about real life.
“Where the Boys Are” is a poignant look at true love and of both the external and internal forces that try to separate us. The story is powerful as it hits home and gives us a look at the universal theme of the quest for love and understanding.