Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Becoming A Man by Paul Monette

A poetic memoir that chronicles Paul Monette’s life as a closeted gay man from adolescence and into adulthood. The span of time focused on is before Monette became a well known activist for gay rights and AIDS awareness. 

Becoming A Man is a narrative composed of a string of brief recollections that have abrupt fluid transitions. This was disorienting to read and took me a while to get used to the author’s writing style. I noticed that most of the recollections tended to be grouped together and anchored around an idea. This idea was usually an embedded statement that would come across as profound to me for its ability to tie those seemingly random memories together.

Each chapter focuses on a period of the narrator’s life. The recollections tend to be in chronological order. However their are a few moments of omniscient narration or self reflection from a future outlook. 

The prose is poetic and sentence arrangement has a visible poetic distortion and manipulation. I personally don’t enjoy reading poetry or books with obvious poetic influence. It takes me longer to read and there always seems to be a penchant for tragedy.

The writing had a strong voice that shifted often between poetic, witty, dry and self reflective. There is a definite melancholy and angsty overtone to the whole book. The narrator is honest and open about his thoughts, motivations, and actions. I was surprised at how exposed the narrator allowed himself to become. 

I also enjoyed the interlaced historical social commentary about America in the 50s-70s. The memoir touched on a myriad of themes and ideas such as family, culture, politics, religion, sexuality, social customs, society, identity, relationships, love, lust, poetry, artistry, and psychology. 

One of my personal rating rubrics for reviewing is whether I felt an emotional reaction to a book and whether it made me think. I’m very conscious of identifying whether my rating is based on my emotional response to the story told or in response to the general writing and story elements.

That being said I HATED reading this book and could only handle a chapter at a time. Nothing to do with the content, general writing, or author’s sexual preference. It was the attitude and perspective of the narrator. It was frustrating for me to read through the existential angst. This was the first memoir I’ve read where the narrator was prominently filled with self-hatred, shame, doubt, fear, denial, self-oppression, and sounded so defeated. It was like reading an overly romanticized, narcissistic, self-sabotaging martyrdom. Plus the ending gave minimal closure and the sign off was so cruel after reading through everything. 

If I wasn’t reading this book to review it, I would have put it down or thrown it at the wall and never finished it. This surprising hostility forced me to be self reflective about the text. This book made me wish I was part of a book club so that I could discuss the book with others. As a reader I want to give this book one star but as a writer and reviewer I think it deserves four stars. 

I think this is a book that affects and resonates with each reader differently. For some it's a mirror and others a window. I believe I received the author’s overall message which supports my personal belief about life, that you have to live authentically because the alternative isn’t a life. 

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher Open Road Media through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]

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