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The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren


ariadne1880
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I finished this a couple of weeks ago but wanted to think more about it before posting my impressions. Thanks to those who recommended it.

 

The bottom line is ... I just didn't really get it. First off, it's such a period piece. It is "so 1970s" and I guess you had to be there for that which I wasn't. Does anyone refer to "the gays" or "a gay" anymore? I could smell the pot and see the sideburns and the bell bottoms. Blech!

 

I also think her writing is really banal. She is no stylist. She couldn't put a nice sentence together if she tried. There is also page after page of agenda and polemic that is not what I want when reading good fiction. Sort of like all that stuff in Moby Dick about whaling when all you want is to get back to the main story.

 

Having said that, I really liked Billy and Harlan as characters and thought their love story was very touching. I didn't see what was coming and when it happened I didn't believe it for one second. The book completely lost me at that point. Even though it is fictional it has to have a ring of believability and Billy being shot and killed while running his race at the 1976 Montreal Olympics was no more believable than if I won the Kentucky Derby. I guess Warren is trying to make some point but I'll be damned if I know what it was.

 

But the central story of Billy and Harlan I can relate to especially since my bf is 20 years younger than me.

 

So that part of it I liked. I guess I can sort of see why this book is so cherished by some but most of it I just couldn't relate to or get.

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I read it in the mid to late 70's. Thought it was great. Perhaps that was influenced by the lack of writings about anything Gay at the time.

 

You do appear a bit harsh in your description of her writing ability or style, but we are all entitled to our opinion.

 

the Cajun

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You say that the scenario in the Olympics was "so unbelievable" but you forget that this novel appeared before the '76 Olympics in Montreal but after the '72 Olympics in Munich. So what's so unbelievable about a shooting at the Olympics? The motive was different but it had a plausible ring to it. I read the novel when it came out and thought it was a good read. Now I doubt I would have the same reaction. But so much has happened in the gay world since then, including the assasination of Harvey Milk in his office in San Francisco. Frankly, anything that happens in this world is entirely believable, fictional or not! :7

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When you compare it to the Thomas Mallon book a few weeks earlier. He knows how to write. He's a stylist. Warren is not. It's very banal prose. No memorable sentences. That's what I mean. It utilitarian. It's the story you remember. You don't remember the writing at all. And most of my favorites writers -- if not all -- are great stylists: Roth, Updike, Greene, James, etc.

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It was not believeable -- to me -- in the context of the novel. Not for one second. Comparisons with Munich are silly. Armed terrorists got in the rooms of the athletes. They didn't lurk in the stands with a rifle waiting to shoot someone during a race.

 

You couldn't have gotten into the 1976 Olympics with a rifle. It simply wasn't believable. It was written like a bad Hollywood movie.

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I vividly remember reading the novel when it first appeared. At the time I found it both moving and believable. You are absolutely correct; it is a period piece and if read today it should be read simply as a, pretty damn good, example of a very specific literary genre. It certainly cannot be judged by today’s political and social conditions. I must say that I find your judgment just a teeny bit parochial, condescending and patronizing. Everything written need not have the staying power of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”.

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The Front Runner had a lot of meaning for the people who read it at the time. Many gays found it heartening to have a touching gay story told, even if a bit of a soap opera. Not much reason remains to criticize it now, since the author isn't writing any more such novels.

 

If you didn't appreciate, well, move on down the aisle. It's not as if there is a shortage today of gay novels to read.

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>It is "so 1970s" and I

>guess you had to be there for that which I wasn't. Does anyone

>refer to "the gays" or "a gay" anymore? I

>could smell the pot and see the sideburns and the bell

>bottoms.

 

Cool, that's all I needed to hear; sounds like something I'd love. Thanks for the recommendation. :) (btw, you once wrote that you were a "teenager in the mid-1970's" so technically, I think you were "there" :p )

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>>It is "so 1970s" and I

>>guess you had to be there for that which I wasn't. Does

>anyone

>>refer to "the gays" or "a gay"

>anymore? I

>>could smell the pot and see the sideburns and the bell

>>bottoms.

>

>Cool, that's all I needed to hear; sounds like something I'd

>love. Thanks for the recommendation. :) (btw, you once wrote

>that you were a "teenager in the mid-1970's" so

>technically, I think you were "there" :p )

 

 

I am in SHOCK that you never read FRONTRUNNER...especially since you are the HARLAN BROWN type

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Guest Michaelnc

I love this novel, but it's definitely a period piece, like most popular fiction. (You're exactly right about Patricia Nell Warren's off-putting tics). I think it helps if you're a track fan, since that's so central to the characters and the plot. I've tried to cast it in my head over and over. Gabe Jennings, who's a world-class American runner who has too many outside interests for his own good, is my current Billy Sive; he's not at all attractive to me, but he's got the oddball appeal that he needs.

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I much prefer literary fiction to popular fiction and was hoping -- and still am -- to find a gay-themed book in that genre. Mallon's book certainly was ....

 

Of course, it would be nice to find one that isn't in the "doomed gay love" story genre as well.

 

I'm glad I read it. There were things I could relate to. I just thought the ending was implausible and that the writing was too polemical and banal.

 

But Billy and Harlan were memorable characters that I enjoyed getting to know. Do wish there had been a little more character development on some of the other "stock types" she populated the book with.

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Back in the early 70's, when "The Front Runner" was published (actually 1974), there wasn't much gay fiction that crossed over into the larger reading world. It wasn't the first such novel, but there weren't many at that time that presented a more or less honest gay relationship as a good and positive thing. I read it and was glad for it at the time. In retrospect, what bothers me more than the pedestrian prose is the necessity to end in tragedy. It has taken a long time for the artistic presentation of gay people to "normalize" in the sense of being people who lives are not shaped by some extraordinary drama. Oscar Wilde had a long afterlife!

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If you are looking for literary fiction, with underlying gay themes, you can always read Andre Gide. Personally I have always founds his novels perfect for sleepless nights – after two or three pages I am fast asleep.

 

I don’t read much fiction popular or “literary” BUT I certainly don’t see anything wrong with EITHER form. So many popular writers are accused of being trite and banal that after a while the accusation itself becomes trite and banal. Frequently literary and artistic “intellectuals” equate popular with bad which I personally find silly, snobbish, and elitist. I really don’t understand why many of these so called “intellectuals” seem to believe that in order for both fiction and nonfiction to be “outstanding” literature it must be boring, tedious and dull. Barbara W. Tuchman who wrote wonderful books about World War I (The Guns of August being an excellent example) was scorned by many of her university professor colleagues because she wrote in a manner that made her books immensely popular with the general public.

 

I also find it fascinating that many interesting, entertaining, and even, god forbid, enjoyable novels and films are accused of being soap operas. As far back as ten years ago the old ABC soap opera “General Hospital” was making the TV network one million dollars a day from sponsors. Popular trash – certainly BUT so what people enjoyed it. I have repeatedly heard friends sneeringly accuse the popular gay film “Latter Days” of being a gay soap opera. It is and so what, it is also a damn good story that god forbid ends happily. If a gay themed novel or film ends happily it is condescendingly accused of being a soap opera and if it ends unhappily it is condescendingly accused of being the same old repetitious gay tragedy.

 

Damn people we need to lighten up just a bit and start enjoying a broad spectrum of things and that includes even those novels and films that are trite and banal.

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BILLY in FRONTRUNNER was a BREAKTHROUGH GAY character in POP LIT. In my High School years (YES, in the LATE 70's) that book was being read throughout the school by the straight, gay and questioning. EVERYONE was impressed (and many fell in LOVE) with the strength, dignity and BEAUTY of that character. CONSIDERING WHAT CHARACTERS HAD COME BEFORE...BILLY in FRONTRUNNER was a MIRACLE and a REVALATION for those times. I STILL SAY IT IS A MUST READ BOOK IF YOU ARE GAY> However, it takes some period perspective to realize the true impact of this work.

 

 

PLUS, I never saw Midler at the BATHS (TOO YOUNG for THAT) but this book gave me a taste of her performance poolside.

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You obviously have no knowledge of Canada's history. The 1976 Montreal Olympics were a financial fiasco riddled with corruption. Everyone was on the take, except the poor citizens of Montreal who just retired the Olympic debt 2 years ago. Imagining someone paying a security guard to look the other way or having incompetent security guards who got the job because of who they knew is not beyond believable in the context of Montreal's history.

 

In fact sometime after the Olympics, a man armed with a rifle entered Quebec's legislative Assembly, which was nominally guarded, and stood in the speakers gallery and shot several people to death in broad daylight and during a regular sitting of the Assembly.

 

I REPEAT, nothing is unbelievable if you can imagine it! :*

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After having to read really involved and convoluted tracts for so many years, my "literature" of choice for recreational reading is most often frothy "trash" with lots of explicit sex - especially when describing the male protagonist. }( :p :9 Not that there's anythong wrong with that. ;-)

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FILM RUMOR UPDATE:

 

 

BTW that ZACH guy from HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is being talked about to play BILLY (GOOD CASTING...IF DISNEY will ALLOW IT) and PITT is STILL INTERESTED in HARLAN (YES he has READ THE BOOK and has been quoted in the press as being INTERESTED IN THE ROLE).

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