Victor J Banis “Coming Home”, published by MLR Press in 2009, available either as a stand-alone ebook or in the print anthology “Esprit de Corps”, also MLR Press.
The swinging sixties, the Sunset Strip a smorgasbord of horny Marines, looking for a little action before heading off to Nam. A queen’s delight, and it’s all too easy for a guy to fall in love with these brave, young warriors. But some of those shipping out won’t be coming home, and not all of the wounded wear uniforms
Review by Vashtan
Some people have been asking me why I start each review with how I got a book, and asked me “is that really necessary”? Yes. One author and her publisher have contacted the FBI with allegations that this blog reviews from pirated copies. Personally, I wouldn’t find my way around a torrent these days, and besides, apparently many files you can download there are either fake or riddled with virii. Contacting the FBI first and then the blog is not a way to show your good manners; while I’m not the affected reviewer, hysterical writers and their equally-hysterical publishers like this are the reason why I don’t start with a witty opener but with the legal stuff. I don’t like SWAT in my study or having my computer confiscated. It’s quite disruptive to my own novels.
The legal stuff, then. After my last review of a Banis book, Lola Dances, I found it only polite to contact the author direct to send him the review before it went online. Mr Banis was great about it all, polite, grateful and perfectly happy to discuss the story with this reviewer. As a thank you, he sent me a free short story, which I loved (not sure whether it’s out or where). I asked Mr Banis whether he had any more recently published historical books, with the full intention to either buy whatever book he pointed out to me or to contact MLR Press to send me a review copy. I received the file for “Coming Home” unprompted with the next email. So, I got a free copy from the author himself.
“Coming Home” is set in the Swinging Sixties just before Stonewall, and that way clings to the very end of the period that this blog covers. And to come right to the point, I really enjoyed this story of just under 50 pages, with around 15-16thousand words. It’s heavy on the sex, steamy, and maybe wasn’t the best thing to read on the commute to work.
Mike, our first person narrator, is a young gay man who goes out to pick up men on the Strip. Usually, these are servicemen, Marines and sailors seeking some relief before having to return to the barracks. This is the time of the Vietnam War, and also the time of greater sexual freedom and general openness to gay experiences. He picks up Doug, a Marine who hasn’t done this kind of thing before, but is perfectly happy to try things out. Much steamy sex ensues (that made me completely blind to what was going on around me on the bus, train, and bus), which is well-told and good fun.
Once that is out of the way, the story is about the blossoming of love—but at first, it is, cleverly, not Doug’s and Mike’s love. Banis brings in some complications that make this whole experience quite harrowing for poor Mike. Things look the worst when Doug gets shipped off to war.
I really don’t want to spoiler you for the rest of the story, only tell you it’s a satisfying journey that felt real to me and held me captive for a while after I’d finished.
The setting is very vividly painted; I found it completely believable, so full marks for that. Mike’s voice is laced with humor; we get a very good picture of who this guy is, and above all, I really got to like him and hoped things turned out well for him.
Here’s a bit right from the start:
The Swinging Sixties. To some, that conjures up images of The Haight in all its flower power glory, before the lilies festered. To others, it was Greenwich Village and that heady period leading up to the events at Stonewall; or the love-ins in Griffith Park.
For me, it was The Strip. Sunset Boulevard. Not the Norma Desmond Boulevard, of flame red Maseratis and grand hotels and pink mansions with heart-shaped swimming pools, but the hurdy-gurdy strip of once-elegant-now-sleazy clubs, discount record stores and gay bars.
And Marines. Scores of them, hundreds of them, flocking there every weekend from Camp Pendleton down the road, strolling about wide-eyed in twosomes, three-four-and-moresomes. And some of them alone. On the prowl. Happily, because these were the ones a gay man like me looked for.
This was the era of the Vietnam war — or police action, as some put it. The population of the one-time Rancho Santa Margarita between Oceanside and San Clemente had soared from a few hundred Marines who marched there from San Diego in 1942 to somewhere around a hundred thousand, give or take a thou or two at any time. Every one of them young, buff, tough — and best of all, as many of us saw it, terminally horny. (page 4)
This is a well-written, short, sweet, enjoyable read set in the late Sixties, with likeable characters, plenty of hot sex, and there’s enough romance in there to put a grin on your face when it’s done. Definitely recommended.