BookMarks review posted on GMax (South African site).
Author David Ehrenstein's scathing retorts to censorship of the TV movie, The Reagans.
The Internet Book List
author Keith Morissette's
Read my bio on QueerWriters.com
a novel by JIM PROVENZANO
Vets of the Met
by David Ehrenstein
"As the last guests departed, the swift deconstruction of the elegant tables began. Plastic tubs and ice tins were hauled from table to table, becoming blood-colored like a Guyana Koolaid mix. Candles were snuffed out and silverware tossed into trays with a tiny clatter. Glasses were dropped into plastic racks and stacked to the side like small skyscrapers. Tablecloths were ripped away and stuffed into garbage bags for laundering the next day by unseen crews of Chinese women, whose efforts reaped less than four dollars an hour. In the rest rooms, a few waiters took silent pleasure in pissing on the piles of unused ice cubes that were poured into the men's room toilet."
More than anything else in Jim Provenzano's new novel Monkey Suits, the above paragraph captures something terribly specific about New York in the 1980s, something only a gay man with a "worm's eye view" of that era's obscene confluence of luxury and squalor would notice - the rapacious waste of it all. Set largely in the great hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where party after party unfolds for the delectation of the city's "swells," Monkey Suits revolves around a coven of cater-waiters, many of whom are also members of ACT-UP. One only has to read a few pages of Provenzano's prose to sense that an AIDS demo of some sort is bound to unfold in the climax. Yet it does so with surprising discretion.
For, just as he grasped the subtleties of adolescent lust in PINS, his gay-teenage-wrestler-coming-out novel, Monkey Suits glides smoothly over the surfaces of buff boys in tuxes, discreetly flirting and less-discreetly humping to get at what can only be called the zeitgeist of the AIDS generation. A fatal disease is running amok, and its primary victims are rising up to deal with the chilly indifference of the world in which they live.
Provenzano is alive to the way that fiction can get to the heart of things in a way that nonfiction cannot. Still, for all the sexual heat generated by the cater-waiters of "Fabulous Food," and their awakening to the fact that their lives are on the line, Provenzano maintains a poker-face reportorial style that resists the temptation to caricature.
Speaking as a former employee of the Met, I can vouch for the authenticity of every page, particularly the way the book evokes the ambiance of dinner being served in a reconstructed Egyptian Temple.
Needless to say, all this has been whisked away now, like those dinners. The rich are greedier than ever, but are careful to "dress casual" and even "down" to ape lower classes they otherwise despise. Gayness is "out" and therefore more "in" than before, yet kept at a discreet distance.
And AIDS is not only still with us, infection rates are on the rise. But the cries of the dying are muffled as a new generation strides forth, largely indifferent if not downright hostile to the past. This book is for them.
- Visit Ehrensteinland
"Jim Provenzano captures an era in gay history with humor and poignancy.
* * *
Booksellers: Available through wholesale distributors