A prolific gay writer, Picano is the author of over 30 books of poetry, fiction, memoirs, nonfiction, and plays. This sequel to his well-received collection of short memoirs, True Stories: Stories from My Past, is just as great, if not better, than the earlier book.
The bookends for this volume are familial tales. At the beginning, “Brother Bob: Prologue” deals with being the first son growing up in a dysfunctional family with a dictatorial father. Refusing to take over the family business, Bob escapes into military service while the third child, Felice, excels and becomes estranged from his family at age 16 when he goes to Queens College and lives in an apartment on the lower East Side of New York City. In “Vincenzo: Return of a Death: Epilogue,” the adult Picano researches the murder of his uncle in 1923 when Vincenzo was nine years old.
The narratives in between are organized by place and time: New York in the ’60s and ’70s, a book tour to Japan, Picano’s extended time in Berlin, and the return to his favorite building in New York City, an historic Federalist in the West Village where he lived for 17 years. The past two decades in Los Angeles cover Picano’s life there after his friends and acquaintances in New York City died of AIDS.
Highlights include “Bad Boy” in 1970’s New York when, after three failed love affairs, Picano decided to just pursue sex in all kinds of venues, usually late at night after he closed up the fancy Rizzoli bookstore after midnight. “The Hollywood Ending” focuses on his long friendship with Vito Russo and the documentary about Russo’s life and historic book on the history of gays in film. “The Child” is about Picano’s long-time life-partner of 16 years, Bob Lowe, and Lowe’s body-builder “other man.”
“Two Gaijin [foreigners] in Gay Japan” showed the blossoming of sex on a boring book tour by the two authors of The New Joy of Gay Sex.
The L.A. segment of the book provided the saddest and funniest portrait: “The Prince of Pizza.” Jon Peterson was fun when he was young but grew into a sour, self-centered curmudgeon during the last years of his life. In “My Audition– Make That My Auditions,” the reader is shown how Picano was caught in the industry for commercials and photo shoots.
The book’s grotesque cover is a doctored photo of the Neptune Fountain in Alexanderplatz, Berlin which lacks a connection to the book’s major themes of Picano’s family and career, AIDS, and gay sex, men and boys.
An important title for all libraries that collect American gay writing and writers, the memoir is an essential addition to such collections.
Reviewer: James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University