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From the moment he leaves the Midwest in the early 1950s, Tom Larson is forced to confront his sexual and romantic desires at every turn. His awakening begins in Korea where he has an affair with his commanding officer. On a trip to pre-Castro Havana with his then fiancée, he embarks on a star-crossed romance with a young Cuban zealot. In Los Angeles, during the life-altering summer of 1969, Tom, now a successful film/TV writer, is consumed by shame by his unrequited love for Junior Willis, a handsome young man who taunts him with vivid tales of heterosexual prowess. Tom’s tortured journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance and happiness mirrors the slow but steady evolution of gay consciousness from the post-War War II years to Stonewall. But when he finally stops questioning his nature and his yearning for affection, love finds its way to Tom’s doorstep.
It’s fast and sharp and bittersweet, and I liked it very much.
From the Korean war to the Vietnam war and the premises of the LGBT Rights movement, “Junior Willis” covers a man’s prime years – from first love and first heartbreak to resignation, anonymous encounters and loneliness, then to hope again; from sexual awakening to self-depreciation and fear, then to candid seduction.
It doesn’t dig deep enough to be a character study, it is too short to be a chronicle, but it takes from both to brush a portrait touch by touch, Tom’s portrait. It’s about the supposedly best years of his adult life, the time he spent them in, the new era that is opening to him.
The writing style is journalistic, fast paced, more factual than introspective, but deft and clever. I suspect that it’s what seduced me the most.
Now, I feel like I should state that this is not a romance, since the main focus is not to lead two characters from point A to point B; but it is definitely about sexuality and love, and I am glad that there will be an after-meeting-Junior-Willis life for Tom.
So, well-written, funny at times, touching and thoughtful : I recommend to give it a try.
RATING: 4 STARS