Felice Picano is a bona fide legend who has not only
been around the block, he’s paved a few as well, so you’d expect a memoir of
his to be name-droppingly dishy. And you’d be partially correct. But True
Stories works best when it’s telling Picano’s stories, not those of Diana
Vreeland, W. H. Auden or Tennessee Williams.
Don’t get me wrong—the chapters on the above celebrities are
definitely worth reading and Picano surely has volumes more of them. But a life
is not merely comprised of the famous people one encounters. Picano has
included some of them—after all, it’s what readers expect in a memoir of a gay
literary icon—but he uses them to augment some wonderful chapters starring
not-so-well-known luminaries as well as a few childhood memories that will
stick in your head longer than any of the profiles.
We meet fellow Violet Quill members Robert Ferro and Michael
Grumley (and the ghost in their home) in a particularly engaging episode that
details the couple’s lives and deaths as well as illustrates the somewhat
prickly relationship Ferro and Picano had—or rather that Ferro had with
everyone. He also introduces us to surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford and the
difficulties Picano had with reprinting Ford’s 1933 novel The Young and Evil.
As interesting as meeting these people is, however, the most
involving portraits in the book come from Picano’s childhood. “The Bike Race,”
a reminiscence about Picano’s friend (and rival) Ricky Hersch and their bicycle
race beneath an unfinished mall, menaced by the dark unknown and a security
guard, is golden—the stuff that made Jean Shepard and Garrison Keillor
famous—and Picano’s telling is vivid and exciting.
In “Secret Ceremony,” Picano relates a midnight escapade in
which he and his grandfather and several other neighbors do battle with a pack
of wild dogs that have been terrorizing the neighborhood. You can feel the
dread and smell the cordite in the air, espeically after the men have stopped
the pack and are forced to pick off the squirming and wounded animals. In a
different vein, his crush on “The Taystee Bread Man” is charming and sweet
without being sticky.
With True Stories, Felice Picano enhances his status
as one of the great literary figures in recent gay history and does so with
wit, verve and as much panache as we’ve come to expect.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler