Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Raid by Lee Lynch

Publisher:                   Bold Strokes Books

Every movement needs its historians, especially those who were in the actual vanguard of the activities.  People need to remember what came before them so that they can appreciate what they have because new generations tend to take what they have for granted and forget the struggles that led to their situation.  Lee Lynch is a name that belongs in the same category as Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.  She was in the gay rights movement before the infamous Stonewall riots and can speak to those struggles as the others can to civil rights, feminism and the Latino labor movement.

The Raid is the story of the Old Towne Tavern, an establishment in a part of a Massachusetts town that has seen better days.  As the neighborhood has transformed so has the bar that caters to people who work and live in the area, especially the gay community.  Although not billed as a “gay bar,” that is who makes up most of its clientele.  The cast is large – Murph, who has a story for everything and a hopeless love for a woman from her past; elegant Lisa; Rocky, the mild mannered narrator; Deej, the newly minted lesbian who isn’t sure how to fit in; the queenly Norm, who owns the bar with his closeted college professor boyfriend; and an assortment of friends, gay and straight.  Early in the book there is a police raid on the tavern that is brutal.  The rest of the book shows how these characters deal with their feelings about the event and how it changed their lives.

Anyone who is familiar with the events in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York will recognize what happens at the tavern in the story.  The value of the book comes for those who don’t remember.  Lynch captures perfectly the fear of discovery that gays lived with and their difficulty in knowing who they could trust.  This was the time when homosexuality was still considered a crime and a mental disease.  Gay people had no rights and could lose their homes, their families and their freedom quite easily.  The changes going on so quickly in the US now obscure just how recently ago things were very different.  One of the most poignant themes of the book is how gays have always formed “families of choice” because they couldn’t rely on their blood families for support.

There is a drawback to the book however.  The old saying is that an author should write what he or she knows.  What should be added to that is the caution that an author shouldn’t over write either and Lynch does some of that.  Lynch has a message to impart, but she can’t seem to do it and move on.  There is episode after episode pointing out basically the same thing; it was difficult and dangerous to be a homosexual in the early 1960s and politicians often exploited them for their own aims.  The book goes on and tries to tie up each character’s story and what is going to happen to the tavern.  None of the characters are uniquely compelling or interesting, so the story seems to drag.  A tighter framework might have made the story itself hold the reader’s attention more.

The Raid is important because it creates a very powerful picture of the emotions, frustrations and political realities of the time.  No one can read this book and not feel the fear of some of the characters radiating off of the pages.  Because Lynch lived long enough, she’s also able to inject some hope into the story by having her characters wish for things that have now become possible.  This book might better have been written as a straight work of history.  That’s why it should be read.  The fact that it’s written into a work of fiction makes it more palatable for readers who might not try it otherwise.

Read it for the history though……………..and remember.

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