Review: The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick

Looking at The Lord Won’t Mind from a historical perspective

Title: The Lord Won’t Mind
Author: Gordon Merrick
Published: 1970; republished in 1995
Length: 255 pages

Charlie Mills and Peter Martin are both young, handsome and well-endowed. They meet and fall madly in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from a closeted gay man to a person who accepts himself. Charlie is terrified of rejection, especially that of his rigid, moralistic grandmother whom he loves but who expects him to marry and have children. Charlie at first attempts to live a double-life, expressing his homosexuality through acting and painting. But his life is incomplete without Peter.

Charlie eventually throws Peter out and marries a woman to protect his reputation. Charlie’s wife later suspects his homosexuality, and perpetrates a horrific act of violence on her husband. As Charlie works through the aftermath of the attack, he slowly comes to realize that honesty and self-acceptance are the only way out. Charlie finally confesses his love for Peter, and they move in together.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I have a review posted for The Lord Won’t Mind over at reviewsbyjessewave. There I critique the book from the perspective of being an important piece of gay literary history; for this critique here at Speak Its Name I’ll consider it as historical fiction, because, bottom line, that’s what it is—or at least supposed to be.

The story allegedly takes place in the late 1930s. It opens at Charlie’s grandmother’s summer estate in Rumson, New Jersey. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this point. Googling the book and reading various synposes and descriptions posted here and there, many people (wrongly) state that the book is the story of two Ivy League college students in the 1960s. Looking at the original cover of the book, it is easy to see how someone could make this error. Their hair, oxford cloth shirts with rolled up sleeves, no ties…the casually tied sweaters tied over their shoulders—yup, definitely preppies from the 60s. I might even have dated one or both of them.

But what about within the pages of the book? Doesn’t that give any clues? Not really. There are vague mentions of “the war” but no one actually ever goes away nor does anyone get killed. Keeping with the sixties theme, it could have been the Viet Nam War, so that’s not really a hint.

Dress, technology, locales? All vague. Park Avenue is Park Avenue; Charlie and Peter dress to look sharp but nothing that particularly ties them to the era; they talk on the phone and drive cars. In fact, near the end of the book, they drive back and forth to Stamford, Connecticut (from New York City) twice. I vaguely wondered when gas rationing began—after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I later discovered, so even that wasn’t a giveaway clue.

Manners of speech—Peter says “Golly” a lot and sounds like Mickey Rooney in the old Andy Hardy movies. They call each other “darling” (endlessly) which reminds me of the Nick and Nora Charles movies. So maybe that would be accurate to time. But then “baby” creeps in and worse, “darling baby.” Maybe that’s just sappy speech but it doesn’t sound historical to me.

Sexual behavior—Charlie and Peter have lots of sex and use a lubricant. Was that term common in the 1930s? I don’t know. K-Y jelly (water-based) was invented in 1917; Vaseline (petroleum-based) was invented in 1872. I know that in my experience, I used “Vaseline” as a generic term for years; it wasn’t until the spread of AIDS and the need to use water-based products with latex condoms that the word “lubricant” became more common in the vernacular. However, the author, Merrick, was gay and he might very well have been traveling in different lubricant-circles than the ones I inhabit so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

On the other hand, Charlie’s wife takes him to task that he doesn’t pleasure her enough and give her enough orgasms. She even suggests that he might read a book on female sexuality. In 1939? I don’t think so. Remember that the Kinsey reports didn’t come out until 1948 (men) and 1952 (women). Thus I don’t think Hattie’s admonishment to Charlie rings true for the time. In fact, her comment sounded like it came straight from the pages of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, published in 1969. For me, this was definitely an anachronism.

So how can Merrick write a historical fiction book and not have it be…historical? A couple of points might provide insight. First, Merrick went to Princeton in 1938 and dropped out during his junior year. In the book, Charlie has just finished college. So Charlie is clearly drawn from Merrick’s life experience. Since he was there, and lived it, it is not surprising that details get omitted in the telling of the tale—they are not in the forefront of his mind. Second, for people reading in the 1970s, the forties were only three decades prior. They probably remembered those days quite clearly—I know my mother would have (and I am sure she read this book—but I am wondering how she kept it hidden from me!). Thus readers in that era did not need the historical grounding that we in 2009 might require. Last—even though the story is set in the thirties, it could be any time. Time and place is really irrelevant. I think Merrick just set it when he did based on his own life experience, as noted above.

So tallying up: historical evidence: a few words, such as “Golly” and “Darling.” Anachronisms: female orgasmic behavior and the cover of the book. Neutral: places, clothing, transportation, communication (telephone), mentions of “the war.”

Recommendation: if you are in the mood for a gay soap opera with lots of melodrama, sex, and a happy ending, read the book. If you are interested in a slice of gay literary history, give it a go. If you want accurate historical fiction full of interesting details, you probably should pass. For me, one and two outweigh three and thus I think it’s worth reading. Four stars.

Note: The book was originally published in 1970 and re-published by Alyson in 1995. Although it is out of print, it is easy to find used copies. I bought mine for this review off Amazon for less than $5. And–I bought the book so that serves as my disclaimer.

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11 Responses

  1. One of the first gay lit books I ever read…

    For this book to be any whiter it would be covered in mayo and served with ranch dressing. For it to be anymore privileged they would need to have a scene where they take guns and go hunting for commoners (Read homophobia is a ignorant poor people’s disease.).

    This was one of those “privileged” gay fantasy books that still sets my teeth on edge because there are so many stereotypes at work here it’s hard to pick one. They are so wealthy and so white and so entitled they don’t have the problems of the little gay people causing all those public scandals. Oh my, why do they let all those low life blue collar crazy people do that stuff in San Francisco? Images like this culminate in other hardships of the poor gay richie rich boy books like Dancer From The Dance by Andrew Holleran eight years later.

    I quickly moved on to less snobby fare like Front Runner and Tales From The City and really never looked back.

  2. There wasn’t a hunting scene? LOL.

    This was about as realistic for gay sex as “Love Story” was for het sex, which I remember reading (and enjoying) back in the day. (I wonder what I’d think of Love Story if I re-read it now.) I didn’t read this back then, though — just now and enjoyed it as a bit of history. “Lit” — do you mean literature? I’d say no. This is a soap opera through and through and as you say, full of stereotypes. If I tried to read it or take it seriously, I probably would have quit on pg. 10.

    I actually became interested in this book from reading The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. In that book, many books, such as The Front Runner, were universally praised, but this one seemed to be the most contentious, with some writers calling it utter trash and others praising its place in history. So that’s what drew me to it and I read it from that perspective as a primary source document. Having read it, now, I can understand both perspectives, but I lean towards the latter. If it was total trash, it wouldn’t have been reprinted and people still wouldn’t be talking about it nearly 40 years later.

    Even so, I’d never hold it up as a paragon of literature. I read “The Lord Won’t Mind” knowing what it is/was and from that perspective, I found it entertaining.

    L

  3. I call it all Gay Lit with no qualifications because then you get into the whole argument which is better the East Coast writers doing stuff like this although the plays getting written around this time were fun to read actually or the West Coast writers like Victor J. Banis or Lou Rand doing the fun gay camp.

    • Fair enough. I actually have The Man From C.A.M.P. lined up for a review next week, so that will be my chance with the west coast fun gay camp book.

      L

  4. Fair enough. I actually have The Man From C.A.M.P. lined up for a review next week, so that will be my chance with the west coast fun gay camp book.

    L
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  5. Also if you want a peek at what was going on at the beginning of the Golden Age my fave is from 1957. James Barr ~ Derricks

    A wonderful hardcover book of short stories and very very hard to find.

  6. I read this way back, when Front Runner and Catch Trap were about the only gay books to be found, and even then, in my latent youth, it struck me as plastic. His portrayal of baby machines–pardon me, women–in this and the sequel, was just incredible, as in not to be believed. Never got a clue that it was supposed to be 30’s. The cover hair… blow-dry 70’s, but that’s really minor, the usual cover-art departure from content.

    I suppose Merrick’s books are interesting as historical artifacts, and full marks for the happy ending, but as fiction… put it this way–I bought the sequel to see if it was any better, and decided they weren’t keepers. By contrast, when we moved in together and sorted out our books, my wife and I found we had duplicates of most of Maupan, and three copies of Front Runner.

    • I haven’t found any commentary on the sequels — it is mentioned that two were written and that’s about it — so I took that as a sign they were pretty dreadful and left it at that. I won’t be seeking them out.

  7. I loved James Barr’s book s. The heroes were a bit too perfect, but they were a welcome change from the gloom and doom that proceeded them.

    Victor

  8. The most important clue appears in my copy of the 1971 Avon paperback edition. On the preface page (directly after the dedication page, but right before the title page), the following inscription appears:

    “I say, if it’s love, the Lord won’t mind. There enough hate in the world.”
    –Mrs. Sapphire Hall
    Harlem, 1940

  9. A Godsend! I don’t care what anybody has to say about this book!

    When I was first starting to find myself back in the mid 70’s, I use to take the bus to this bookstore in Uptown Whittier, California! I had just happened to find out, one day, that they had – *whispering* – “Gay” literature! My favorite, of course, was In Touch for Men! LOL! But, one day I found the book section! EUREKA! The first thing I bought, since, I was young and confused was a psychological mish-mash called “Loving Someone Gay!’ Quickly through that aside! Then, I found Gordon Merrick, and my life changed forever! Dated and somewhat fantastical, I relished in his every word! Is this what my life is going to be like? Of course not, but, sure was fun, for a young guy trying to find his way, knowing that there was something out there!

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