by John Grube
Published by Dartington Press (Toronto)
Fiction (short stories/autofiction)
165 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
August 26, 2001.
Four of the five stories in John Grube’s self-published collection I’m Supposed to be Crazy (1997) are set in overtly political arenas.
The other, “Geoffrey,” is set in the Toronto gay subculture of the 1950s, before “the personal is political” was conceived. It is a vivid representation of the pressures of connecting for encounters that were then criminal. It also makes the need for sponsorship to gain entrée to the circuit of posh parties and the recourse to alcohol to overcome inhibitions palpable. Besides making “the bad old days” of homosexual alcoholism comprehensible to a post-liberation generation, it includes a poignant romance and even some hot sex. Offhand, I’d say that it is the most convincing account of what being gay during the 1950s was like. It can be more candid than what was published then (and is more sexually frank than what I’d nominate as the best account of lesbian life of that time, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold.)
Characters—or at least genealogical lines—run from story to story. Mac, the male ingénue brought into Toronto gay high society by Geoffrey, is a child fascinated by playing Monopoly, in the first story, “1938,” though it is primarily about Mac’s mother co-opting her communist lover to her husband’s liberal political machine.
Mac, like the author born in 1930, is a politically savvy junior English department faculty member at the University of Windsor, ca. 1968–69 in the title story. Mac is active in trying to get a popular fired teacher reinstated. The teacher is sold out by some supposed “radicals” who are only interested in the man as a symbol and who cooperate in discrediting Mac (who persists in trying to save the individual’s career after the “radicals” have sold him out) as crazy. The complicity of psychiatric medicine with muzzling dissent was not confined to the USSR and may now be a more covert (rather than entirely historical) alliance of state and medicine.
“Raid” features the mobilization to protest the police raid on Toronto bathhouses in 1981. It features a closeted gay official in the Ministry of Justice involved in planning the raids, an undercover police agent, the son of the communist from the first story as a streetwise organizer of the protests, and various self-styled radicals with no sense of the grassroots gay men they claim to speak for.
The final (and most paranoid) story brings back the policeman, whose interest in the supposed suicide of a professor at the Ontario Art College (where the author long taught) revisits a struggle over expression vs. craft with geopolitical roots. Although we have learned that what once seemed beyond paranoid fantasy was often happening with CIA (etc.) infiltrations, agents provocateurs, etc., what I find most unbelievable in this final story is the confession of the operative.
The leitmotifs of the collection are that there are leftists who are more interested in appearing radical than they are in getting results, that symbolic politics is the only kind that interests them, and that North American governments infiltrated and influenced to self-destruct pretty much every organization, however ad hoc, protesting anything during the second half of the twentieth century.
Personally, I am more interested in the two stories set in gay Toronto (of 1958 and 1981) than in the Byzantine politics within Ontario colleges (though I should point out that Grube links the battles within academia to larger-scale political combat and that the stories are in the paranoid thriller genre à la John Grisham).
I also particularly admire the first story, which reaches furthest beyond what might be autobiographical and which has a credible female protagonist. The characters (like, say, those of Doris Lessing) are very concerned with political battles, but are not agitprop puppets. They are complex, imperfect human beings.
Originally published on epinions 26 August 2001
©2001, 2016, Stephen O. Murray
Nonfiction on gay Toronto by John Grube
1986. “Queens and flaming virgins.” Rites 2,9:14-17.
1990. “Natives and settlers: an ethnographic note on early interaction of older homosexual men with younger gay liberationists.” Journal of Homosexuality 20:119-135.