The Why Not by Victor J. Banis (Borgo/Wildside)

Buy it direct from Wildside Books.

When reading this, it’s possible many
will think “Hey, this seems a lot like Faggots
by Larry Kramer or Tales from the City
by Armistead Maupin.”  The soap-operatic multitude
of characters, the anchoring of gay life around bars or parties, and the
surface frivolity that often disguises a deep-seated loneliness are motifs in
all three.

 

However, The Why Not was published twelve years earlier than those other books. 
The recent re-release of this title as an e-book will allow new
generations to read the work.  One
important difference between the world of 1966 and the world of 1978 (a year
that also saw the release of Dancer from
the Dance
by Andrew Holleran and Nocturnes
for the King of Naples
by Edmund White) apparently was a marked level of
danger.  The threat from the police that
was mostly absent from the latter books was one of the most saddening and
disturbing aspects of The Why Not.  It should be mentioned that Banis’ book is
set in Los Angeles where police brutality seems be something the city can’t get
away from. 

 

The
Why Not
is more a series of vignettes than a novel with a clear story arc
and, in fact, the bar, called The Why Not, could often be seen as the most
developed character in the narrative.  What’s
interesting is the cover the book seems kind of fun—a cartoonish font in front
suggests a light tone, and the depiction of crowd at a bar suggests there’s
probably camaraderie, laughter, and alcohol-assisted cheer.  The fact that the book’s contents depict a
largely troubled, cynical and sad world mirrors the concept of “happy and gay
on the outside, but if you can see beneath the surface, there’s a different
picture.”

 

Despite the bashings, the fear of raids,
and the predation by thieves who know gay men can’t go to the police, probably
the saddest aspect of this book is how cruel gay men can be to each other.  For example, one handsome young man, an
African-American, builds his own self-esteem by claiming he has a long distance
relationship with someone very wealthy. 
The travel this allows him and his apparent happiness with his life make
him both enviable and desirable.  It’s
upsetting, but quite believable, to see how much mean-spirited glee comes from
his exposure as a fraud. 

 

The frequent jumping to new scenarios
with new characters will probably make reading this a bit more difficult for a
generation with an internet and television-weakened ability to concentrate, and
there’s bound to be something of a disconnect between the fears of everyday gay
life before Stonewall and the relative freedoms the LGBT community has
now.  However, this book is not only
important as a time piece (especially when considering how popular the book was
when it was first released), but, sadly, is still relevant today for at least
one reason.  That aforementioned cruelty
to one other generally stems from self-hatred, and that self-hatred often comes
from unaccepting parents, bullying classmates, and the unbelievably open
prejudice from politicians, pundits and religious leaders.  Perhaps reading this book could instill in
younger generations the sense of pride in how far the LGBT community has come,
and that may give them greater confidence when it comes to the battles that are
still left to fight.   

 

Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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