Mad's Spy Versus Spy
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Michael Bronski's introduction does a terrific job of placing the story in a context that is as meaningful now as it was fifty years ago.
-Echo Magazine (Echo Magazine)
The best novel this reviewer has ever read on the theme of homosexuality.
-The New York Times (New York Times)
At this moment in our social history, it is difficult for most American authors to write a novel about a homosexual affair without making either a tract or an apologia. Mr. Peters has done neither. Instead, he has kept resolutely in focus his great theme: the corruption and murder of innocence.
-Gore Vidal, The Saturday Review (Gore Vidal, Sat. Rev) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Fritz Peters was a novelist and writer of books on philosophy; his novels included The World Next Door (1949), The Descent (1952), and Blind Flight (1966). He lived mostly in New York City, but eventually moved to New Mexico, where he died in 1979.
Michael Bronski's books include Culture Clash, The Pleasure Principle, and Pulp Friction; he also wrote the introduction to the first Little Sister's Classic, Song of the Loon by Richard Amory, as well as to Finistere by Fritz Peters. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Their tenderly drawn love affair and the strong character portrayals all-around make the book what it is. This deserves a wide audience, and even manages mostly to avoid its potential status as a period-piece.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Fritz Peters' characterisation beautifully captures the naïve, isolated Matthew, and the somewhat bitter, cynical Michel, along with exquisite three-dimensional portraits of the members of Matthew's family. And in Finistère, the father of most contemporary coming-of-age novels, the author expounds those timeless sensations of burgeoning gay self-awareness: Matthew's love for Michel "had made him come to life"..."The sense of guilt that had formed questions inside him, pointing an angry finger at him, vanished".
Lest this simple exposition suggest that Finistère is a 'typical' gay coming-of-age novel, it should be stressed that it was originally published as a mainstream novel in 1951 - clearly a bold move by the author in that era. This is reflected in the content of the novel, which, unsurprisingly, portrays the life of a gay man as a dangerous one, and since two men could not constitute a 'family', the only thing left was for homosexuality to be equated with furtive, underground sex and ultimately, loneliness. What is surprising for a novel of its time is the sympathetic portrayal of the two lovers, Matthew and Michel. Undoubtedly this imbues the novel with a particular historical significance, and it is fortunate that it has been revived by a collaboration between Arsenal Pulp Press and the Little Sister's bookstore.
Much more can (and no doubt will) be said by readers about the importance of this novel in its historical context and how it sheds light on the lives of gay people in our past. Indeed, the eminent Michael Bronski ('Pulp Friction' etc) introduces this new edition with fascinating insight into this aspect of the work. However, it may reasonably be asked why it is important to revive novels such as this, when contemporary gay coming-of-age literature abounds on our bookshelves. Leaving aside the fact that Finistère is a beautifully written and poignant novel in its own right, clearly historical literature is important as a yardstick by which we can assess how society has evolved over the years, and it is for this reason, even if no other, that Finistère - and other works of its era - need to be kept alive. While one can point to many changes in the treatment of gay men since the 1950s, Finistère - as with other coming-of-age novels, is ultimately about the internal struggle that a young gay person goes through in trying to find his place in a hostile society. It thus serves as a necessary reminder that the torment that Matthew undergoes in the novel still exists, more than half a century later, for the young gay person struggling to "arrive at the only place where he has ever really belonged" - and this is one reason why Finistère remains as pertinent today as it was in 1951.
Moreover, it is illuminative that the 'shock value' of the novel when first published was its sympathetic portrayal of gay characters - not their respective ages. Disturbingly, the novel still has potential 'shock value' today - precisely because the relationship involved is that of a 15 year old adolescent and a late-20s man. It is therefore apparent that persecution and hatred have not disappeared in the 50-odd years since Finistère was published - they have merely found a new, more convenient, target. Clearly Matthew's consensual relationship with Michel was highly significant ("What had happened to him was an end to all fear...Michel had brought him back to life") - and yet the Matthews of today are still legally denied such life-altering salvation.
Ultimately, therefore, Finistère remains a work of importance and deserves to be read - not only for the beautiful sorrow and passionate emotions that the novel itself engenders, but because it provides a milestone from which the evolution of our society since 1951 (or regression, indeed) can be measured - and accordingly evokes the legitimate question of whether the persecution of minorities for their nature has really abated, or whether in fact the oppression and demonization suggested in the era of Finistère is still being perpetrated today.
A few weeks ago I was sorting out my library of books when I came across it again. This was now my second reading. It was a book that described to the letter the atmosphere for gay people that existed in 1929 and still existed in 1960. The book was not, in this reading, a heartfelt love story. It was a book that explained how difficult living was in that time, a time when having sex with a person of your sex was a crime. It also explained for me a related phenomena I witnessed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the summer of 1963 I sought out a gay bar and went it. Everyone was swishing about, bartenders called customers "dearie" and swished their limp wrists. "Oh Honey" and "girl!" was brandied about. I found it distasteful.
By the time the mid 1970s rolled about, poof! no more swishing, no more "dearie", no more "girl!" in the big Cities anyway. Small towns still had its stereotypical queens. Stonewall had come and had a lasting effect on self esteem and acceptance.
Deviant and Sick and Disgusting hadn't been eradicated yet. This can be seen by the 1992 Ann Landers column in which she wrote about gays, "and sick they are" but the ongoing march toward acceptance was not stopped.
This book gives one a great insight into how the "Queen" came about and how gays grew old, alone, without a life partner. It gives insight into the tremendous realistic fear involved in venturing out to find another for companionship, sex, friendship. On this second reading I barely noticed the love story. It was secondary in importance to all of this.
I believe that it is difficult for a person who has not experienced personal danger and fear on an ongoing basis in their normal living to understand what it was like to live with this and how one tries to create cautious safe spaces and attitudes and interactions to protect oneself. Anyone born in the 60s or later did not experience the bar raids wherein all the patrons were lined up and had their picture taken so they can be put on the front page of the next days newspaper along with their name, address, and place of work. The did not experience the practice of curing gays by putting them in mental hospitals and castrating them. The did not experience pre-Stonewall America.
For me, this author did a great job of giving the reader an accurate look into gay life in a puritanical country.
I know young men still go through the emotional debate that Matthew has with himself throughout the story. I know young men, who have relationships with older men, have to face the same sort of scrutiny and speculation that Matthew and Michel faced in the book as well.
The good fortune is that today we are, as a society, more capable of being accepting of gay love and of relationships between men in general. These things needn't be closeted or hidden -- they needn't be judged and looked down upon -- we needn't live in fear or fear to live.
I loved this book and I think anyone reading it with an open mind will love it also -- I hope you'll be the next!