True Stories

Picano, Felice. True Stories: Portraits from My Past. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Chelsea Station Editions, 2011. Paperback. 220pp. $16.00 ISBN: 978-0-9844707-7-8.

Felice Picano’s True Stories is a masterpiece. Every library interested in major contemporary authors, gay or straight, must buy it. Picano, one of the most prolific, popular, and literary of our gay authors has written many memoirs already, such as Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children, Men Who Loved Me, and A House on the Ocean, a House on the Bay, but this book is different. It is a collection of separate essays about persons missing from the other memoirs, persons ― mostly men but some women too (Bette Midler, Diana Vreeland) ― who the author encountered throughout his life and who made an impact on him. They are arranged in more or less alphabetical order by the name of the chief subject, but these names are not included in the table of contents, only as subtitles in each essay. This alphabetical order breaks down among essays about family members. For example, Picano’s chapter “Grandpa Ralph” precedes his father “Philip Picano.” There are also a few typos, such as “her” for “here” on p. 137, but nothing serious.

This wonderful book has already received rave reviews from The New York Times, Out magazine, Library Journal, Booklist, The San Francisco Examiner, The Advocate, and Lambda Book Report. I hope that this rave review will persuade those who may still be on the fence. Frankly, every library serious about American literature, or gay literature, should have all of Picano’s works, including this one.

I’m not going to list all the subjects of these essays. Some are famous, such as W.H. Auden, who comes first thanks to his name, and Tennessee Williams, who comes last. Some are unknown except to Picano and a few others. Picano is an artist who constantly writes, including detailed journals, which were a major source for these essays. He doesn’t have to rely on memory alone, so we’re treated to lots of fascinating particulars from contemporary “eye-witness” accounts.

There is some discreet sex in a few of the stories, but most of the essays are about friendships, encounters, or family members. Every essay is gripping, exciting, fun to read, and, yes, entertaining. No wonder Picano is such a popular writer.

True Stories is a masterpiece. Buy it and enjoy it.

Reviewed by, James D. Anderson
Professor Emeritus

Rutgers University

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