Some writers have taken “coming out” as the beginning of the plot and then made a novel of it. It might start, “In 1993, when I was fourteen, I came out to my best friend….” Others have taken “coming out” to be the climax of the plot, whose final sentence might end, “And then, in 2006, I came out and lived happily ever after….”
If you’re a new novelist, there are several problems with these plots. One is that we’ve read these novels already. A more serious complaint is that, whether you make coming out the climax of the novel or the beginning of the novel, a major part of a person’s life is going to be ignored (or have to be imagined). In some kinds of fiction, that’s OK. When Shakespeare’s lovers get married in the fifth act, we are not invited to wonder what comes next.
But some kinds of modern fiction, being more realistic, do wonder. For many of us, coming out happens somewhere in the middle of our lives, after some major event and before some other major event. Even a guy coming out at ten years old has some pretty intense stuff going on, before and after.
When I sat down to write Race Point Light, I planned to base this novel loosely on a typical life of a man in my generation, and all the different parts of that life were real life, every single part of it—his childhood, the run-up to his marriage, his marriage, his children’s births, the run-up to his divorce, his divorce, his coming out, his move to an urban gay community, AIDS, his meeting the man who was going to become his partner, their fighting disease together—and it makes a different kind of novel. In Race Point Light, coming out is neither the end of anything nor is it the beginning of anything. Much more realistic. There is nothing about this life that is ever after.
Race Point Lighttells a story that begins a long time before the narrator comes out and that ends a long time afterward. It’s the story of a man’s life that is typical of many gay men in post-war generations. Race Point Light explores the drama in these lives, and it has the added advantage of being close to the way we really experience ourselves. There is no fairy tale here.