Happy Independence Day
This is a gritty and well-researched vision of gay life in New York City during the famous Stonewall riots of the 1960s. Multiple perspectives add color to the historical event, ranging from closeted tourists to local drag icons, mafia nightclub owners to the police personnel assigned to harass gay bars, an unfortunate fact of New York law-enforcement policy during the era. Terrence Bottom, a young student at Columbia, falls for a handsome but tragically exploited street hustler named Cameron McKenzie. The Stonewall is the seedy focal point of the story, both snake pit and refuge for West Village street life during a time when real danger existed in LGBT expression. The novel’s realism is a well-timed reminder that there was little nobility in the establishment itself – among the edgiest dives in the Christopher Street neighborhood – but rather in the unprecedented riots named after it, a spontaneous resistance which arguably did launch gay activism as a recognized civil rights movement.
The novel’s use of dialogue is among its strong points, although the reader needs to squint past a self-indulgent sarcasm and toney dramatic that at time borders on stereotype. Even some of the character names are cheapish one-liners. That aside, the reader who commits does not go unrewarded, as good use of tension and pacing keeps the pages turning, and the many little-known historical factoids give a compelling impression of firsthand witness accounts drawn from primary research.