Case, Ensan. Wingmen. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press, 2014, reprinted from the 1979 edition. 379 p. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-59021-574-6. $20.00.
Wingman is a wonderful and moving novel. I originally read it in 1979 when it was first published by Avon Books, and, after thirty-five years of being out of print, it has now been reprinted by Lethe Press.
One of the earliest novels with a positive gay relationship, most of Wingman centers on naval pilots during World War II on a Pacific aircraft carrier. While I’m not able to comment on the authenticity of the military descriptions, a review (http://speakitsname.com/2011/05/08/review-wingmen-by-ensan-case/) by Air Force Vietnam veteran Eliott Mackle vouches for the authenticity of the in-air fighting action.
Jack Hardigan is the commander of a squadron of fighter pilots on the aircraft carrier Constitution. Fred Trusteau joins the squadron and quickly makes his mark first by performing with a woman, to the delight of his fellow pilots, then as a skilled flier, shooting down so many Japanese planes that he becomes an ace, earing him the nicknames Trusty, then Killer. Making out with a woman was not Fred’s idea of pleasure but he manages to perform. After proving himself as an expert pilot, Jack, the commander, invites him to be his wingman, one who flies close beside him. Jack’s best friend Duane Higgins becomes suspicious of Jack and Fred’s relationship, which develops slowly, since they have trouble finding safe time together (of course, not easy on an aircraft carrier filled with horny straight men). Lessening Duane’s suspicions and to Jack’s relief, Duane begins to pursue a woman, a beautiful and wealthy widow of a close navy friend, who had been interested in Jack. Toward the end of the war, Jack ditches his own plane to save Fred who lies nearly unconscious in a life raft after his plane went down. After returning home from the war, Jack and Fred reunite in California to run Fred’s family’s hardware store.
The novel is strong on emotion but not on the details of sex. But then, we all have imaginations; so this works well. For all libraries that collect gay fiction, this is an early gem. Buy it. It is also highly recommended to all readers who enjoy great gay fiction.
James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University