2007 Holiday Books – The Progressive, 12/14/2007

An Army of Ex-Lovers by Amy Hoffman
Map of Ireland – Stephanie Grant

An Army of Ex-Lovers: My Life at the Gay Community News, [University of Massachusetts Press] by Amy Hoffman is a memoir of early Gay Liberation in Boston during the 1970s. GCN was a scruffy, challenging, informative, radical weekly newspaper. Despite its small circulation, its reach was wide, not only as a cauldron of progressive gay ideas about class, race, art and politics but also as a school for scandalizers who went on to found and run major national gay organizations in the movement.

Hoffman is a wicked funny writer. In sly detail, she interweaves her own gay story, the marginal characters that came and went at GCN and her attempts to translate it all to her family. Most surprisingly, it is an unlikely gay love story, between a Jewish lesbian and a very tall Irish gay man. Their love and friendship were no small feat in a time of lesbian and gay male separatism. An arsonist’s fire destroyed the offices of GCN, and with it the fierce and fragile energy that had sustained it. Hoffman’s well-researched memoir is an important record of a time pre-AIDS, pre-gay marriage and pre-gay chic.

Map of Ireland [Scribner] is a novel by Stephanie Grant also set in Boston in the early 1970s. Set against the seething backdrop of busing in South Boston, it is a coming of age story of Ann Ahern, who could have used a Gay/Straight Alliance in her high school. Grant does right by the complexity of her main character. Ahern has a mouth on her. She’s a tough jock, a romantic, who keeps loving people who are the wrong race and the wrong gender. Grant is also “wicked funny”, as they say in Southie, and tells a rambling, rollicking good story that honors her own Irish roots.

Each work stands solidly on its own, but because I read them in tandem, there was a satisfying overlap. The city of Boston in the 1970s is both a main character and a setting for race and gender battles. Both books have fully drawn characters impelled by a wonderful, confusing, liberating lust, denounced by Catholic fundamentalism. Ann Ahern’s fascination with burning things got her into trouble. I found myself wondering for a second if she had anything to do with the GCN fire. But I suspect her story would have been quite different if she’d stumbled on the GCN family.

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