In the 1950s, being gay will get a man fired in America's Foreign Service. Young career diplomat Jim Goodall so deeply fears his "crushes" on men that, as Uncle Jim, he lavishes his affection on a favorite niece. When he is posted to the Marcos-controlled Philippines, his rigid celibacy has even a giggling Imelda Marcos calling him "the Vicar" - until a friend invites him to war-torn, destructive Vietnam. A murder in a jungle village and a Saigon orgy of on-leave servicemen, Asian gay boys, and rich colonials ...
In the 1950s, being gay will get a man fired in America's Foreign Service. Young career diplomat Jim Goodall so deeply fears his "crushes" on men that, as Uncle Jim, he lavishes his affection on a favorite niece. When he is posted to the Marcos-controlled Philippines, his rigid celibacy has even a giggling Imelda Marcos calling him "the Vicar" - until a friend invites him to war-torn, destructive Vietnam. A murder in a jungle village and a Saigon orgy of on-leave servicemen, Asian gay boys, and rich colonials force Jim Goodall into a dramatic confrontation with himself. Beginning a personal odyssey that takes him from the pleasures of Bangkok's notorious Patpong to the shock of witnessing state-sanctioned torture in Manila, he becomes a man on a tightrope, balanced between living silently with his own lies and those of his government, or risking everything to expose them both. Searingly authentic depictions, of Southwest Asia and the Marcos regime's glitter, corruption, and human-rights violations mesh with the intimate geography of a man's heart to make Almost History a toally involving epic, filled with human drama, enormous subtelty, and daring political truth.
Although Bram places his fourth novel in the Philippines during the Marcos era, he delivers little more than a surface exposure to this potentially explosive setting. Beginning in the 1950s, the narrative follows the 35-year career of Jim Goodall, an idealistic American foreign service officer committed to serving his country and bolstering basic human rights. The story is filtered through his oddly codependent relationship with a tomboyish niece, who serves as muse and mirror to his experience as a ``house guest of history.'' Goodall's own outlook is expressed in the prologue, in which he serves warning that his career was ``small potatoes'' and that he will ``stick to the potato's-eye view.'' Unfortunately this makes for a rather undramatic narrative: this minor character in history neither accomplishes his goal of self-actualization nor succeeds in exposing government corruption. Concerned that acknowledgement of his homosexuality will hamper his career, Goodall never matures beyond adolescent accommodation of his needs, and he is unable to forge meaningful relationships. His fight to illuminate the atrocities of the Marcos regime has ironic consequences. That Goodall is shallow, awkward, insecure and ultimately unlikable further diminishes the book's appeal. While earnest and sometimes insightful, this novel lacks the wit and charm of Brams's previous offerings (In Memory of Angel Clare) . (Apr.)
Bram has described himself as ``a gay novelist . . . who tries to treat gayness as just one strand in a life that has more similarities with `mainstream' life than dissimilarities, without denying the similarities.'' His latest novel provides a good example of this approach. Its protagonist happens to be a gay foreign service officer who only begins to come to terms with his sexuality when he reaches his mid-40s. But while his awakening is undeniably a significant (and sometimes a bit forced) thread within the story, it is not the main thrust. Rather, Bram is concerned with the moral and political complications inherent in diplomatic life: personal integrity versus truth and ``nation al interest.'' The Marcos-era Philippines with its glitter, corruption, and human rights abridgements provides the ideal setting for this thought-provoking story. Without its gay thread it might even have had a shot at best-sellerdom--maybe someday this will not matter but probably not yet. Still, this is an excellent choice for most public libraries.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Christopher Bram is the author of eight other novels, including Gods and Monsters (originally titled Father of Frankenstein), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Bram was a 2001 Guggenheim Fellow and received the 2003 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. He lives in New York City.