Set in 1920s Chicago, The Folded Leaf follows two very different boys who find themselves forming an unlikely friendship. Lymie is thin, clever and terrible at sport. Spud is athletic and quick to fight and blithely accepts Lymie’s passionate devotion to him. The bond between them is obsessively close, until they leave home for college and both find themselves drawn to their new classmate, Sally.
Review by Erastes
This book was published in 1945, so it’s particularly “coded” in such a way that it can be read without some people noticing the homosexual sub-text. I think perhaps that if the ending had been more upbeat in the way The Charioteer had been written then it would be as popular as that book because it’s certainly written as beautifully and to read it is to truly immerse yourself in the high school and university life of 1920’s America with the coon skin coats, letterman sweaters and the heady importance of who you knew against what you knew. However, these aren’t grown men able to do what they like with their lives, and they aren’t in England. They are 19 year old American schoolboys in 1920 smalltown America.
I think I’d have to disagree with the blurb, though. I didn’t see any indication that Lymie was attracted to Sally at any point. They liked each other extremely well, but it is Spud’s misinterpretation of Lymie’s friendship with her that causes the conflict, not any realistic attraction at all.
Are Lymie and Spud homosexual? I think possibly, yes. I would say that Spud shows bisexual tendencies and Lymie homosexual. In today’s frat houses I think that they would–as they are sleeping together in The Folded Leaf, and always sleep touching in a sweet innocent fashion–take their relationship to another level. I got the impression from the story that neither boy ever had any suspicions as to what their deep feelings really meant. Even when Lymie longs to touch Spud, I felt it was more of an adoration of a body of a type that he could never hope to have, for he himself is an entirely different body shape, rather than any sexual desire.
Very often, looking at Spud, he felt the desire which he sometimes had looking at statues–to put out his hand and touch some part of Spud, the intricate interlaced muscles of his side, or his shoulder blades, or his back, or his flat stomach, or the veins of his wrists, or his small pointed ears.
The affection is clear between them both, but stronger from Lymie to Spud. Spud inhabits a much more physical world than Lymie; he boxes, he swims–does all sport well, while Lymie’s skills are cerebral and Spud takes Lymie for granted, while always wanting him in his life. I think that others see their relationship a little more clearly than they do themselves, notably the effeminate landlord (there’s always one!) and Spud’s own family, who, until Sally is brought home to meet them, had been entirely accepting of Lymie’s place in Spud’s life.
The crisis comes when a mutual acquaintance tells Lymie (and it’s never acknowledged as to whether it’s a true tale he tells) that Spud hates Lymie because of Sally’s friendship. Sensitive Lymie feels entirely betrayed and takes matters into his hands. Thankfully the book doesn’t end with tragedy (and I think for the sake of readers of this blog I’ll be forgiven for spoiling this much) but still, the author writes the only ending that would have been accepted in 1945, after giving us one of the most memorable scenes in the book.
If you liked The Charioteer, you’ll definitely like this, because it has much in common with its themes and has beautiful prose–and as a piece of homosexual history, I’d think it definitely rates a read from anyone interested in America at this time.