Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gay edutainment, way out in front

I thought everybody knew this book ... until I was talking on some website somewhere, and mentioned it ... and it turned out I was talking to a Twinkie of about 20 years old, who said "What's The Front Runner?" He or she had never even heard of it. They could quote me Captain's Surrender (Alex Beecroft), My Fair Captain (J.L. Langley), Eclipse of the Heart (Emily Veinglory - seriously, that's the pen-name), Bareback Mountain (Frank Sol), and basically anything that's doing the rounds digitally (this whole list and maybe 250 more and available at Diesel Ebooks), but if it was printed on paper ... "What's a paperback?"

Grrrr. So, even though I might be preaching to the choir in a lot of cases, I'm still going to talk about The Front Runner, because the book was published in 1974, which is 34 years ago ... maybe 16 YEARS before some of today's readers were even born!

It's possible some very young readers might have a problem with this book. The reason I say this is because PNW's fiction is about the anti-gay prejudice of the 1970s, and things have lightened up so much lately that kids who're just coming out now might find it hard to believe crap like this happened. Or else, they know it happened but they can't relate to it.

Well ... that's not good. The Holocaust happened over 60 years ago now, which is a long time before most readers looking at this page would have been born. And we'd all better find a way to relate to the Holocaust, quick, because somebody very wise once said, "Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it." I'd love to know who said that. They were so right.

So ... if you had an 18 y.o. who was just coming out and saying, "What am I supposed to read?" I'd be recommending The Front Runner. PNW's book sits right on the fence where two zones are divided. One one side you have entertainment. On the other side you have education. Front... is like a cross between the two.

(I actually went into this in a comment on someone's webpage a couple of months ago, and Mel Keegan took up the thread, and Dusk Peterson got into commenting, and quite a discussion was going on this subject -- It all started with something I'd said on a page at Speak Its Name: ... so there's food for thought for you. If there was ever anything in reality where gay fiction could be called "education" I think I'd nominate The Front Runner... but it's also a really great novel.)

The story is another "gay sporting tale" so it has something in common with Out of Bounds, which I blogged about a few days ago. It also features a relationship between a very young guy (in this book it's Billy Sieve, who's an endurance athlete, a long-distance runner) and his coach/trainer, Harlan Brown, who's about 40, and thinks he's too old for Billy ... fortunately Billy has other ideas.

The book has a LOT about running, but PNW manages to make it really interesting. You'd have to be seriously allergic to sports to not find something interesting here. The relationship between Billy and Harlan is very well drawn ... but there's also a lot of very very angsty material. Reading it back in the 1980s, I really did feel keenly for the characters. Reading it in 2008 -- you are very aware that it's a historical. But at the same time, the recent Proposition 8 situation in California makes you realize gay rights are still delicate. Which makes The Front Runner poignant all over again.

The book has an extremely sad ending. Billy does get to run in the Olympics, but as the first openly gay gold medal winner, someone in the grandstand has a big problem with him ... and a high-powered rifle.

Again, you have to remember: The Front Runner has turned into a historical. In the days of the "War against Terror" where you get to walk through metal detectors and get frisked on your way into a footy game or cricket match, and you're under the eye of CCTV everywhere you go, younger readers would probably find it utterly unbelievable that anyone could get into the Olympic stadium with a rifle.

But in the 1970s the security wasn't there. It could happen. No gay athletes got shot, but it definitely could have happened. Very nasty events took place at Munich in 1972, where people weren't killed for being gay ... they were killed for being Jewish. In fact, they made a movie about it a couple of years ago. (Drat. I'm old enough to remember watching Munich '72 on the news as-it-happened.)

So... The Front Runner. Great book. Historical. Highly recommended. Is it edutainment? Read it and make up your own mind. I love the book, because it's not "just" a gay love story where everything turns out right in the end ... everything doesn't! The book is a gay love story where everything goes wrong. It's a story about freedom, gay rights, human rights. Oh, and long distance running. You can definitely, positively get copies from alibris or Amazon.

Highly recommended. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars.