“Justify My Sins” by Felice Picano— The “Business of Making Films”

Picano, Felice. “Justify My Sins”, Beautiful Dreamer Press,  2019.

The Business of Making Films

Amos Lassen

I have been reading Felice Picano all of my gay life and that seems forever so I was surprised to learn that this is his first novel in fifteen years. I guess that Picano had written so much that I did not notice that there was a gap in time. The good thing is that I am now up to date.

If this was a book of nonfiction, I suppose we could say that it is a Hollywood expose. However, it is fiction and I learned long ago that all fiction carries some truth—we just have to figure it out. Victor Regina is a writer in New York City and everything is going his way. His literary output has strong support and his books sell. His agent pushes his work and Victor is looking forward to the next big circuit party. The Black Party is being held at the very exclusive Flamingo Club and promises to feature hunky men with large libidos. There is a problem though—winter has overtaken New York and does not seem to be going away and Victor is alone right now even though he has many friends. Victor, we see, wants a partner and a lover. Because it is so cold not many are venturing out the clubs and the chances of meeting someone do not look particularly good.

But there is a sudden ray of sunshine; Victor’s agent calls with an offeror Victor from Hollywood. A famous director wants Victor to write the screenplay based on his latest novel, “Justify My Sins”. Victor of course in anxious to do the job and goes to Los Angeles (or “El Lay” as it is often affectionately known as). Everything seems to be going well— the temperature is almost perfection, the food is divine as are the men. Everything is so good and so easy that Victor wonders if there is anything real about it. Ostentatiousness is everywhere as is insincerity. He even wonders if the job of the screenplay is real or is it just apart of the “I don’t give a damn” atmosphere of the place? Before long Victor yearns for New York.

Now a book about the movies is bound to have some great secrets and big happenings and that is what we read about in this roman à clef with a heart.  We  explore love vs. lust and compare two major American cities that are known for their gay communities. Picano takes us by the hand and shows us New York in all her grittiness and Los Angeles in all of her showiness and deceit while Victor tries to find a life that is real and makes him feel content. The stops along the way are the real fun but we also see their dangers and lackadaisical sides. We see what Victor doesn’t and that is that he has lived a good life but without justification.

We go inside the business of making movies and see its connection to the gay life on the West coast. The novel is set before the AIDS epidemic cut so much short. There are many good stories woven into the plot and we hear from big stars to the men on the street. Hollywood novels are great fun. Set in the 1970’s when hedonism was a way of life, we get good gossip and a look at Hollywood and its lack of depth. The dialogue is sharp as big names from the 1970s, 80s and 90s deal with pain and pleasure and nothing ever stops. Here is a look at gay desire that we do not usually or often get. I can tell you that you will have either a smile or a grin on your face as you read and this is a must-read. In fact, I just might read it again.

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