Green – Tom Baker (Lethe Press)

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Coming out in the late Sixties and early Seventies was a trickier proposition than it is these days. The atmosphere was certainly more charged then, changes coming for everyone with lightning speed. Support groups and organizations are a lot more common today, and the consequences for many are considerably lessened. Gay stories from that period are woefully underrepresented in the literature. I was pleased to present the Jonathan Lerner memoir a few weeks back, and now comes Tom Baker’s Green, a short but punchy military novel whose main character is a terrific contradiction.

A fresh graduate of the William & Mary class of 1967, Tim Halladay plans on studying drama at Yale when he is drafted into the U.S. Army. Nicknamed “College Boy” in basic training, he’s dogged by his superior officers for not using his education to take special OCS training. But Halladay has to be careful with Charlie Company and then at his cushy job as admin for Captain Oliver, or his secret will come out, resulting in imprisonment and a court martial.

As someone with a healthy distaste for the military mindset and life, I’m perversely fascinated with books about life in the service. And Green is no exception. Despite the fact that it could have been twice as long, it’s a well-told story with an ending that rather surprised me, even though I was warned and saw it coming. Tim Halladay is a great character, complex and nuanced. He wants to do his part, including combat, otherwise he would have either come out or “checked the box,” admitting his homosexuality so he didn’t have to go in.

Sex is not a part of this novel. Okay, there’s a group jerk scene, but it’s not told erotically or even meant to be. Instead, the threat of sex and sexual compromise looms large in the background, giving a spin to even the book’s most mundane moments. When, indeed, Halladay does face accusations of sexual impropriety, it has little to do with the military and provided me with a sort of shock ending. I won’t spoil it, but I kept waiting for a different ending. This one certainly makes sense, but it wasn’t where I wanted it to go. Bad author–or should I say, great author.

Green is a terrific read, full of absurdity, humor, drama and an ending that sneaks up on you even though you know it’s headed there from the first page. A wonderful achievement, and an absorbing book.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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