cover image A House on the Ocean, a House on the Bay: A Memoir

A House on the Ocean, a House on the Bay: A Memoir

Felice Picano. Faber & Faber, $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-571-19913-6

It might strike some readers as hubristic that this author, now in his 50s, has written his third book of memoirs (after Men Who Loved Me and Ambidextrous). Indeed, the amount of minutiae contained here seems more self-serving than illuminating, although the writing exhibits the flair that Picano has demonstrated in such novels as 1995's Like People in History (a sort of social history of the American gay movement that, ironically, seems more evocative of its time and culture than does this autobiography). The book's title refers to New York's Fire Island, two communities on which have for many years been favorite haunts of gays. Always hotly discussed are the relative merits of being located either on the bay side, or in a house fronting the Atlantic. This memoir, spanning the mid-1960s and the '70s, concerns Picano's attempts to find employment (two different stints at unnamed bookstore chains yield little more than interstore politicking) and his various amatory encounters (some one-nighters, others of greater significance and duration). More substantial are the sections dealing with Picano's first published novel, his changing of publishers, his ire when part of one book is omitted from the final text. Readers may wonder how he recollects such details as a summer's night weather (""the rain had puddled ink and jet, looking like tiny poisoned pools"") or frivolous banter about an evening's social activities, all dating back some 20 years. Occasional sidebars (e.g., a discourse on Alfred Witte's theory of Uranian astrology) and pompous remarks (""I learned the lesson of the creator, how with every creation you become more alienated from those around you, more alone"") often prove off-putting. Still, gay readers, especially those of a certain age, will no doubt relish Picano's glimpses of a bygone era, even if they seem overwrought. (Apr.)