Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place (1961) is the latest DAFFODILS selection (that is the Devilishly Affable Friendly Friends Optional-Drinking Invitational Literary Society, aka the best book club in the world), and like I do with every bookclub book, I got excited and read it way too early since we aren't meeting for at least another three weeks. Luckily The Gay Place is such a strong book that I don't think I'll have any trouble coming up with things to say a month from now.
The Gay Place consists of three interlocking novels that dip in and out of the lives of a group of Texas state legislators, one very junior senator, a series of wives, girlfriends, students, and journalists, and a very LBJ-like governor named Arthur "Goddamn" Fenstemaker. And the book is amazing. Brammer draws a picture of late 1950s Austin and the rising tide of young liberals in Texas politics with a keen eye and a light touch. Although some characters have a tendency to be clichéd, they are clichéd in exactly the way that politicians (and especially Texas politicians) work their cliché-magic. Even more than the politics, Brammer gives us an engrossing story of complicated men and women who drink too much, fall into bed too easily, and fail over and over again to attain the ideals they set for themselves, but somehow keep forgiving each other and trying all over again. And yet, even though depressing things happen all the time, the book as a whole isn't depressing at all. The writing is strong and varied, the dialogue spot-on, and the characters and plot have kept me thinking about this book for days and days.
I've already said more than I wanted to about The Gay Place, since I want to save something for the lovely DAFFODILS, so I'll leave it with this: Read this book.
[And if you have any interest in Brammer and The Gay Place at all, you should check out this Texas Monthly article. It doesn't give away too much about the book, if you haven't read it yet, but it does give a lot of context and detail about Brammer's life that makes the book even more complicated and interesting.]