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French diplomat Jean Giraudoux once said,“The key to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” But Gregory Gerard has nothing to fake in the memoir of his boyhood, In Jupiter’s Shadow. His sincerity is apparent on every page, handily overwhelming the book’s few shortcomings.
The Jupiter of the title is Jupiter Jones, the boy detective featured in the Three Investigators series of books by Robert Arthur. Gerard tries to emulate Jupiter whenever he has a problem, sussing out clues and doing research like any good gumshoe.However, he doesn’t solve the mystery of his gayness until the last few pages –after multiple operations for his hydrocephalitic brother Paul, escaping Catholic guilt and enduring the death of his best friend Roy in a car accident.
Despite these traumas, Gerard has a fairly typical adolescence with his upper-middle class family, making the word for this book “sweet.” Yes, it’s Walton’s-style family sweet – but Gerard’s keen eye for observation and talent for maintaining tension ensures that its sweetness never cloys or becomes overly sentimental.
Is it a perfect book? No. I could have used more of a sense of place and time to root the characters, though he tries to accomplish that through his forced crush on Sheena Easton and love of Stephen King bestsellers (remember when King wrote instead of just typed?). In the same vein, his brothers and sisters weren’t drawn too distinctly, with the exception of Paul, who was a standout character.
However, the portraits of his parents more than make up for the lack, especially that of his father Darwin, a plain-spoken blue-collar kinda guy who becomes overly polite and florid when drunk (dubbed the “Drinking Dar” by Gerard). There is love, respect and drama in this relationship, much of it brilliantly implied rather than baldly stated. The scene where he tells his father he loves him, on advice from kindly Father O’Malley, is beautiful and understated.
What I liked about In Jupiter’s Shadow is its lack of pretension. It’s a loving look at one gay man’s boyhood – certainly not mine and probably not yours, but a nicely drawn, entertaining portrait of warmth, family and home.
Be it ever so humble.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler