Step back in time to America in the 60s. It was a very different world, and as much as still needs to be done in the battle for gay rights, it shows how much has already been accomplished. Your narrator is, mostly, Clara May, a 70 year old woman who has seen it all, and who doesn’t let much get to her. She knows what’s really important. Which is more than can be said for many of the other folk in her small, rural town of Dewers, Illinois.
When the book opens, the town has been rocked by a scandal. Five men, men with families, men known to the town, have been arrested for engaging in homosexual acts in the courthouse bathrooms. What? Homosexual, you say? Yes. No, Dewers isn’t Chicago, that couldn’t possibly happen here. No, no, it could, and it has. Five men you might see every day going about their business in the town square, some of whom have wives and kids, doing stuff with EACH OTHER! What a scandal…. and Clara May loves a scandal. She doesn’t particularly judge, but she does love to gossip, especially with her friend Frieda.
One by one, Clara May and Frieda dissect the individuals involved, their backgrounds, their histories, and the two old friends share their surprise that such a thing could happen in Dewers. After each chapter, Holt takes you into the life of the person you just met, each dealing with their reactions to the Big Gay Sex Scandal. And not just the five men, but their wives, parents, and other members of the community affected. Bob, Thomas, Danny, James, and Gary, the Infamous Five involved in the Big Gay Sex Scandal, and their families all deal with the fallout of the arrests in different ways. Holt pulls you into the calm, slow, rural feel of the town, and if you let yourself, you’ll be pulled back into the closet. Maybe some of you remember that feeling… knowing no one can know what you’ve done, what you want to do again. Your neighbours will judge. Your family will reject. But oh – you’ve tasted something else now, and you it’s hard to close the closet door after opening that bathroom stall.
As much as the book is a trip to the past, one knows there are many corners of our own modern world where that outdated and puritanical mindset still exist, where neighbours gossip and judge in spite of “judge not lest ye”, and where the religious fervour of one dictates the lives of many.
In Dewers, Illinois, that one is Pastor Jenkins, and Clara May is no fan of his. Her religion is very much love thy neighbor, and Dewers is a town where they try to live by that every day. Clara May lives by some simple rules, in addition to love thy neighbor: laugh a lot, drink a daily gin and tonic, and never say if only or remember when. And she knows you can’t stop change. As much as some in Dewers wish you could. The world is changing, out of the commie-hunting of the McCarthy era, into a world where the morality you were raised with is questioned by a war you can’t believe in.
Pull up a chair and have a piece of lemon pound cake, and see what happens when Smalltown, USA comes face to face with bathroom head.
This has been a bobert review.
Written By: Rob B. Follow him on Twitter @robbrowatzke