three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
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737365.pngChristopher Bram is the author of the novel Father of Frankenstein (1995), which reimagines the last days of horror film director James Whale and was the basis for the Oscar-winning movie Gods and Monsters (1998).

The Topic: "The gay revolution," argues Bram, "began as a literary revolution." After World War II, gay novelists and playwrights such as Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, and Tennessee Williams shared their experiences through literature, transforming America’s literary, social, and cultural milieu and setting the foundation for later generations of gay writers such as Armistead Maupin, Tony Kushner, and Edmund White. Bram starts by examining gay male writers and their works from the late 1940s, when the first Kinsey Reports as well as books by Vidal and Capote gave the public the opportunity to discuss homosexuality. Moving to the 1950s and the revolutionary 1960s, which welcomed gay writers into mainstream culture, to the 1970s, the 1980s AIDS epidemic, and the present day, Bram connects literature to political activism to argue that "literature itself was an agent of … change."
Twelve. 372 pages. $27.99. ISBN: 9780446563130

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The sheer volume of material as time goes on makes the book occasionally seem sketchy. … A novelist rather than an academic, Bram is unabashedly guided by his own literary taste and writes in a pleasantly relaxed and always very readable style." Peter Parker

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Its power is less sentence by sentence than cumulative. You don’t realize how much the details of these writers’ books and difficult lives have touched you until the book’s final chapters." Dwight Garner

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"By compressing literary history to a coherent movement, Bram concentrates mainly on the obvious, and by ignoring outliers he is left with a canon too thin to fill a summer vacation. … Eminent Outlaws deserves a prominent place in the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop." John Leland

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Eminent Outlaws falters a bit when the ‘60s and ‘70s arrive and the key personalities— Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Edmund White—emerge from this biographical bath rather more pallid and dull than their forebears, like a 10th-generation photocopy. … As readers of his novels know, Bram can be both critical and empathetic, good at both the broad picture and the tiny, human quirk that animates the whole." Kevin Killian

Critical Summary

In Eminent Outlaws, Bram delivers a mix of biography, literary criticism, and social history to show gay literature’s revolutionary impact on American culture. "It’s a daring thesis," notes the San Francisco Chronicle, "and such is Bram’s skill that he makes you believe it, pretty much." Although only a few critics questioned his claims, more took issue with Bram’s empathetic, but extremely opinionated and sometimes gossipy, tone as well as his choice of writers to profile. They also disagreed about the relative strengths of the book: some felt Bram’s discussion of the 1940s and 1950s carried his story, while others cited as a highlight his exploration of gay playwriting in the 1960s. At its best, Eminent Outlaws offers an important look at writing that has slowly been incorporated into mainstream culture.