I read reviews. Once in a while, I Google myself (I know God says it’s wrong, but I’m human!), and I read blog reviews of Openly Straight. And I will occasionally (read: fifteen times a day) peruse the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
I know there are authors who say this is wrong and a waste of time and energy. They are right. So are the people who say sugar kills. This has not stopped me from eating the chocolate cake at Wally’s Pub in Arcadia. Sooo gooood!
So this morning I read a new Amazon review, and it fascinated me. What fascinates me about reviews is that they tell me as much if not more about the writer than they do about my book.
Like there was the reader who sent me an interview for a column who wondered why I had created a bisexual character. I’m open to the idea that my character is bisexual, but it simply had never occurred to me to label him as such. The reader did that. The reader’s frame of reference includes thoughts about the label bisexual, and that’s what she took from reading the book. That’s what my book brought out in her.
Some readers have been so happy that I had taken such pains to create likable parents. This tells me about their frame of reference as much as it does about my intention. I’m glad the parents are likable, but I didn’t set out to create them that way. They just are.
Which brings me to the review from today. It brought up an issue that was raised in a few reviews of Out of the Pocket.
“A key element of my frustration with the book was Konigsberg’s handling of the central character, which was confused and somewhat hard to decipher. I’m not bothered by Rafe’s decision to avoid outing himself at his new school.
But the novel merges this idea with the idea that Rafe is only attracted to straight-acting men and not only can’t get interested in a more flamboyant sort of male, but actively can’t stand being around them even as friends. And in fact it’s hard to tell how much the author intends these two concepts to be thought of as one. Thus it is difficult to know how to read Rafe’s antagonism towards any gay kid who is the least bit effeminate or unattractive. He frequently goes on about how these guys just aren’t his type, and he and the kind of guy he’s into probably seem boring to them and it just so happens that he fell in love only with a big meaty soccer player and that probably those other gay guys wouldn’t even like that type. But clearly Rafe is only interested in men who don’t seem remotely gay and with one exception, he doesn’t want to even be acquaintances with gays who are the least bit obviously so. There’s one exception, but that almost seems like a case of tokenism. And a broad-shouldered powerful jock with meaty thighs is EVERYBODY’S fantasy, not just his own unique preference.
I really can’t figure out if this is Konigsberg’s attempt to create an anti-hero, if he sees as identical the issue of not wanting to be labeled and being homophobic. Are we supposed to be frustrated with Rafe when he espouses these preferences? Or is the author depicting Rafe’s interest in “real men” supposed to be simply a preference he’s entitled to (and a preference many gay men share)? Are we to take the final resolutions as a slow step away from both his attraction to straight-acting guys and away from homophobia? It’s very unclear.”
Now to be clear: I have no issue with this take. At all. As a self-centered human being, I am often fascinated with the insights people have about my novels and how they relate to ME, the author. So I read it not angrily, not in the least. The title of this blog is not about the reviewer, but about the issue he raises. About gays who only like “straight-acting” men.
I read it thinking: did I create a homophobic gay teen? Because it wasn’t my intention to do so, exactly. I wanted Rafe to have issues, as we all have issues. His homophobia wasn’t central to my thinking.
Are these critiques valid? Does Rafe only like “straight-acting” guys? And is that a thing? And if it is and he does, is that homophobic?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I do think that the writer has taken some of his own issues and superimposed them on the book, because I’ve not heard this critique before. First off, I think Rafe isn’t entirely “straight acting.” I love the guy, and I want to take him out for ice cream, and it isn’t because he’s superbly straight acting. When he comes out to his best friend (a female, by the way), her response is, “Duh.” In fact, what is “straight acting”? A deep voice? An affinity for motor sports? A distate for facial products? I wrote about this issue a year ago on my blog, addressing the need some people have to label gay couples using outdated straight terms, such as, “Who’s the man? Who’s the girl?
But maybe he’s on to something. The love interest in the book is a more masculine kid. Rafe does mention, early in the book, that he has an affinity for such types of guys. I take issue with the idea that Rafe doesn’t want more effeminate men as friends, as one of his two friends, Toby, is quite effeminate, among other things. (By the way, I really don’t think it’s fair to call it “tokenism” when said effeminate guy is a survivalist who brings a bow and arrow to a fire drill on a frigid night. The token effeminate survivalist? Toby is a person, not a token). At the end of the book, when Rafe makes other friends, they are not all “straight acting.”
And I disagree strongly that Rafe feels antagonism for anyone. I think he’s way too laid-back to feel that way. I have to believe that’s about the reviewer, not the book. But as I always say, perhaps I’m wrong.
And maybe his attraction to guys who are more “straight acting” is homophobic. Is it? What do you think about this? Is Rafe a homophobic gay person for being attracted to Ben?