cover image How Long Has This Been Going On?

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Ethan Mordden / Author Villard Books $25 (590p) ISBN 978-0-679

According to Mordden's (I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore) sweeping panorama of gay life in the United States, ``the history meter is ticking''--and what a resonant sound it makes throughout these masterfully crafted pages. Beginning in L.A. in 1949 and concluding at New York City's 1991 Gay Pride Parade (with interim stops in San Francisco, rural New Hampshire and small-town Minnesota), this singular work chronicles the emerging gay consciousness with trenchant humor, editorial observations tinged with a soup on of cynicism and scenes of often devastating emotional impact. Mordden pulls no punches as he presents a compelling assortment of quirky characters (both male and female) who connect, disconnect and reconnect in a constantly affecting game of musical lives. Bitter and sweet, it's all here: the barely opened closets of the 1950s, the 1969 Stonewall riots, the growing prominence of San Francisco (``the great city of do-as-you-like'') as a gay capital and, of course, the coming of AIDS. Evocative descriptions make appropriate, occasionally campy, references to pop culture , while comic and poignant passages commingle throughout the detail-packed narrative--frequently within the same paragraph. Stylistic variations, too, blend to create an astonishing scope; Mordden changes tenses, addresses the reader and often presents the same scene, Rashomon-like, from several points of view. His characters remain achingly real, yet they also perfectly typify their generation--and, what's more, evolve with the changing gay climate. If the book has a message, it might well be found in the observation of a New Hampshire man in 1990: ``It's not that things change so much as that we see them different.'' Thanks to Mordden's stunning work, we can see a little more clearly now. Author tour. (May)