Baker, Tom. “Full Frontal: To Make a Long Story Short”, iUniverse, 2012.
Sixteen Short Stories
I was lucky enough to meet Tom Baker right after his first book, “The Sound of One Horse Dancing” was published. He had come to Provincetown and invited me to have lunch with him and I really enjoyed it (but that in no way influences my review ). One of the things that I really enjoy about Tom Baker is that he had already finished one career when he started a new career as a writer and this gives him the advantage of being able to look back at life and use his own experiences in his writing.
This new collection of short stories looks at intimacy in gay life and all of the stories have the same central character, Tim Halladay, who was, incidentally (or even on purpose) the main character in Baker’s earlier novel. Let’s face it—there is really not much typical about gay life although today so much has changed. If any of you came out when I and Baker did, you could almost certainly know that every day brought something new. We lived through Stonewall and through that period that Brad Gooch calls “The Golden Age of Promiscuity” and we watched our friends die in great numbers during the AIDS epidemic. Our lives were colored by what I call a ”discrete freedom” and many of us lived each day as if it might be our last. Our slogan was “So many men, so little time”. We lived fast and we loved fast.
In August, 1957, Tim Halladay was caddying at the Long Shore Country Club and about to begin the eighth grade. What Tim did not know (and of course did not understand) was that he was changing into a young man, a teen who had feelings for other males. His best friend Jimmy was on the same journey and in the first story in the book we learn about the two boys.
Now Tim was quite bold and he faced the world from that point on as who he was and thus the title “Full Frontal”. We must remember that this was a time before gay liberation when most of us were not ready to come out because of societal pressure (and legal discrimination). What a refreshing read to have a character who was not afraid to be himself. He made no excuses and went his way proudly adding notches to his belt along the way. We need more authors to write about how it was and how we coped or how we were like Tim and made our own rules.
I love that there is something so brutally honest about these stories and I cannot help but wonder how much of this is disguised memoir although the impression of the kind of person that Baker is, I find it hard to see him as Tim. I suspect however that there is some of him here as well as wonderful imagination and writing skill that pulls you right in. Personally, there is a great deal here that speaks to me because according to what I read, Tim Halladay and Amos Lassen are around the same age (but that is where the similarity ends).
Tim’s journey was a sexual odyssey from New England to the South, from New York to the west coast—an odyssey filled with sexual encounters and the everyday activities of life. These encounters bring Tim maturation and his life is told to us through the men he slept with. Now one would expect a book about a young man’s sexual life to be sordid but it is not. The sex scenes are erotic and I especially like that the eroticism is written in a way that put a smile on my face. I also love that Tom Baker dares to take us into the life of his character and as we get to know him, we begin to love so that when you close the book, it is if you are saying goodbye to a friend. For me, it was like saying goodbye to two friends—one is Tom Baker and the other is the wonderful character he created. (I know I will see Tom Baker again and I can hope that Tim will also reappear some time).
I want to add the blurb that my friend Violet Quill author Felice Picano wrote because he says it so well: “Modest, gem-like, and oddly affecting, the sixteen quite short stories of Full Frontal present intimate moments of one gay man’s not untypical life in the late twentieth century. And, like a bracelet or necklace of quirky, individual charms, they ultimately add up to the kind of surprising cumulative effect one usually only gets from knowing someone well for a long time.”