Acclaimed by critics as a second F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billy Lee Brammer was once one of the most engaging young novelists in America. “Brammer’s is a new and major talent, big in scope, big in its promise of even better things to come,” wrote A. C. Spectorsky, a former staffer at the New Yorker. When he published his first and only novel, The Gay Place, in 1961, literary luminaries such as David Halberstam, Willie Morris, and Gore Vidal hailed his debut. Morris deemed it “the best novel about American politics in our time.” Halberstam called it “a classic . . . [a] stunning, original, intensely human novel inspired by Lyndon Johnson. . . . It will be read a hundred years from now.” More recently, James Fallows, Gary Fisketjon, and Christopher Lehmann have affirmed The Gay Place’s continuing relevance, with Lehmann asserting that it is “the one truly great modern American political novel.”
Leaving the Gay Place tells a sweeping story of American popular culture and politics through the life and work of a writer who tragically exemplifies the highs and lows of the country at mid-century. Tracy Daugherty follows Brammer from the halls of power in Washington, DC, where he worked for Senate majority leader Johnson, to rock-and-roll venues where he tripped out with Janis Joplin, and ultimately to back alleys of self-indulgence and self-destruction. Constantly driven to experiment with new ways of being and creatingoften fueled by psychedelicsBrammer became a cult figure for an America on the cusp of monumental change, as the counterculture percolated through the Eisenhower years and burst out in the sixties. In Daugherty’s masterful recounting, Brammer’s story is a quintessential American story, and Billy Lee is our wayward American son.
Tracy Daugherty has written biographies of Joan Didion, Joseph Heller, and Donald Barthelme, as well as four novels, six short story collections, a book of personal essays, and a collection of essays on literature and writing. His stories and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Paris Review online, McSweeney’s, Boulevard, Chelsea, the Georgia Review, Triquarterly, the Southern Review, and many other journals. Daugherty has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Bread Loaf, Artsmith, and the Vermont Studio Center. A member of PEN and the Texas Institute of Letters, he is a five-time winner of the Oregon Book Award. At Oregon State University, Daugherty helped found the Masters of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing and is now Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing, Emeritus.
Table of Contents
Prologue: New Frontiers
Part One: Rural Electrification
Part Two: Electronic Noise
Part Three: Electrical Violations
Part Four: The Body Electric
Epilogue: The Great Society
What People are Saying About This
Joyce Carol Oates
"It is rare to find a biographer so temperamentally, intellectually, and even stylistically matched with his subject as Tracy Daugherty, author of well-received biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller, is matched with Joan Didion. . . . We feel that we are reading about Didion in precisely Didion’s terms. . . . It is warmly generous, laced with the ironic humor Didion and [John Gregory] Dunne famously cultivated."
". . . intelligent and elegant . . ."
"[An] excellent and exhaustive book . . . [an] intrepid and meticulous biographer . . ."