Greene, Harlan. Why We Never Danced the Charleston. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1984. Summary
: Charleston of the 1920s, where gay men form self-styled secret societies and lurk guiltily in back alleyways. Yet none of them know how to tame the handsome yet enraged Jew Hirsch Hess...until the innocent Ned Grimke comes along. But, in the end, not even Ned can stop Hirsch from hating himself--and blaming the rest of the homosexual world for it. Comments
: Though undeniably well-written and settled comfortably into its vintage hothouse setting, I found this novel to borderline on sheer banality. For the majority of its 150 odd pages, it loiters with the unnamed narrator's childhood relationship with Ned, his lust for Hirsch, and his machinations to break up Hirsch and Ned once he's been essentially dumped by both. None of it, ultimately, goes anywhere, and the punchline comes rather abruptly at the end with a surprise police raid on the gay men's favorite hangout. Visions of Stonewall, anyone? Naturally, the men all flee; only Ned is reluctant. At this point, the irreconcilable dichotomy between Ned (who represents the self-accepting homosexual) and Hirsch (who represents the self-hating homosexual and wears all of the righteous victimhood of a Jew like a red badge of courage to boot) is revealed--Hirsch blames Ned for making him "believe." In other words, for a moment there Hirsch thought perhaps that love between men wasn't sinful, after all. Whoops. He then proceeds to effectively destroy them both, leaving only the narrator as bystander with the scars of survival. Notes
: hardcover, 1st edition Rating
- Decent writing, harebrained message. Who WOULDN'T argue that self-hatred is invariably self-destructive?