When a man’s culture wants to destroy him, his first duty is to protect himself, and his next is to change his culture.
Race Point Light is about the question, What does it mean to gay people to carry the stigma they have carried for the last fifty years? How do they live? How does it feel? What is the effect on their lives? What do they intend to do? Race Point Light is an analysis of anti-gay actions and policies of the government, the medical profession, education, the military—of all the centers of power in our culture—and it is about a man defeating them one center at a time.
The narrator of Race Point Light, Fair Shaw, is a man fully engaged. The narrative moves through his childhood in the American South, his discovery that he is not one of “us,” dramatic scenes with his parents, his friends, obtuse professors at several colleges, a romantic courtship of a soldier who had wrestled alligators in Florida for a living, and moves on through a debutante season, the squalid gay scene in New York in 1963, hurried sex with a fellow graduate student, picketing in front of a segregated campus grill, and sex between the columns of the concrete Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. Fair Shaw, searching for a way to protect himself, gets married, has children, gets divorced, leaves his academic career, goes to Boston to join the gay world there, confronts AIDS, falls in love, and, after twenty years, ends on the beach at Race Point late one night, walking with his partner toward the lighthouse.
This is the life of millions of us—Americans born just before World War II or just after—who came to adulthood around 1960. Race Point Light stretches from World War II to the year the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts recognized for the first time in the United States a right to marriage equality. Geographically it covers ground from South Carolina to Washington State to Tennessee, Michigan, Maine, New York, London, and Massachusetts, from Puget Sound to Provincetown. We were the first generation who moved around! And it was this generation—those born between 1940 and 1950—who provided the biggest gang of the fighters on Christopher Street the nights of the Stonewall Riots. Unlike many gay novels, it doesn’t end when the protagonist comes out because it is not about coming out, although, as Fair Shaw discovers, coming out is one of the things he has to do. A man who is seventy-five now, in 2016, might say, “This is my story.” The great subjects of Race Point Light are memory and desire and our culture’s attempts to control both, when gay people know it can’t control either.
Tightly woven patterns of language introduced in the opening pages and developed throughout the novel down to the final pages—themes, metaphors, images, repetitions—give structure to Race Point Light and to the story being told. The principal themes of Race Point Light are the failure of the social contract, the impossibility of choice, and the presence of the past in the present. The novel regularly develops its themes by showing its characters connecting with contemporary movies—Nashville, Kalifornia, True Love, 8½, Maurice, Paul Morrissey’s movies, and Law of Desire—and with novels—The Dancer from the Dance, Boys in the Band, City of Night, and the novels of the Marquis de Sade. The poetry of John Donne is also centrally important to Fair Shaw’s life.
Race Point Light has a deeply personal effect on many gay men, who find it to be their story and who find in it the same epoch-making events—Korea, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, a man on the moon, Stonewall, Watergate, and all of the rest of the rich history of the last sixty years. They also find in this novel the compulsion to come out, not once but over and over and over again as their surroundings change, the need to re-introduce themselves.
Race Point Light is a richly colored narrative depicting a man and his culture from the unique perspective of a literate, politically aware, gay outsider. This man and his culture—even in the most decorous scenes—struggle with each other from the beginning down to the final scenes of the novel on Race Point beach. It’s compelling, it’s absorbing, it’s got a huge landscape, it’s thrilling, and there is nothing out there like it.