Spang, Bruce. “The Deception of the Thrush”, Piscataqua Press, 2014.
How It Was
As I opened this book that is set in 1964, I tried to remember where I was back then. I was a junior in college and majoring in that lucrative academic subject of history and trying to decide how my life would go. It was a terrible time racially in America—Freedom Summer was going on and the Voting Act Law was signed by LBJ, American troops were about to be sent to Vietnam, the Beatles came to America and gay people lived their lives secretly. I had an idea that I might be gay but had not acted on it and it was nothing like it is today in this country.
Jason Follett, I figure, was two or three years younger than I was back then and we both had a secret. I was finishing college soon and he was just starting. Jason, like myself was a fraternity guy but he went for sports and I went to the library. He was in the Midwest and I was in the South and had I not read Bruce Spang’s wonderful book, “The Deception of the Thrush”, I would have never heard of him. We both shared the fear of what we might be. Jason acted on his more than I did—he violated a moral code to protect his secret, I sat and fretted. We both protested racism and the war and both of our fathers wanted us to be like everybody else, whatever that meant. I was too afraid to defy parental authority but Jason broke with his past and was fueled by the assassinations of the time.
It was a time when gays did not come out. Both Jason and I knew we were gay but we denied it to ourselves and thereby to others. We all know that every writer puts something of himself into every book he writes. Part of this story is very familiar and given the time in which it is set, I can only imagine that there is a lot of author Bruce Spang in this book.
While this is the story of a gay boy finding himself, it is not what I would call a gay novel. It is so unfortunate that many people feel that gay men are defined by their sexuality. I do not see us defining non-gay men as straight when we talk about them but I do see that when speaking about a gay guy, the word “gay” is usually used as part of the description—“You remember, Wayne, that gay guy in our high school biology class.” Rarely would you see that sentence without the word “gay’ in it. So this is a novel about Jason, not “gay” Jason, just Jason who happens to be gay.
Going back to the 60’s, many stayed in the closet so as not to embarrass the family by being out but there were other problems like getting a job, finding a place to live, meeting others. We were afraid to be out because we did not know how others would perceive us or we knew and hid it from them. We weren’t living lies, we were just existing.
Some of you may feel that I am skirting the issue of this book and that may well be true. I do not want to take away one minute of enjoyment of your reading this sincere and tender novel. Not only is it a great story but it is a literary feast—a story about growing up and self-acceptance and finally self-realization. I could probably comment on every sentence, describe every character and summarize each chapter but that only shows that I read the book. What I want you to see by what I wrote here is that the book affected me as I am sure it will anyone from my generation who reads it. It is also important for others to read it to see how it was and know that there might have been asking but there was no telling. Thank you Bruce Spang for taking me home again but I really like it much better the way it is today.
*A note—I will indeed review this book eventually but it is going to take a little time because it has really hit me hard. So be patient–it is not often that I find a fellow traveler in a book I review.