cover image Leaving the Gay Place: Billy Lee Brammer and the Great Society

Leaving the Gay Place: Billy Lee Brammer and the Great Society

Tracy Daugherty. Univ. of Texas, $29.95 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4773-1635-1

This look at the life and times of Billy Lee Brammer (1929–1978), journalist, LBJ staffer, pill popper, and author of The Gay Place, a well-received 1961 novel, is thorough and intriguing, but not quite satisfying. Novelist and literary biographer Daugherty (The Last Love Song) benefits from having a star-studded supporting cast to work with. The widely varying famous people surrounding Brammer at different times include LBJ, JFK (the two shared a girlfriend, Diana Vegh), Janis Joplin, Ken Kesey, and Jack Ruby (a friend of Brammer’s dated Ruby’s star stripper.) Adding to the story’s Zelig-like quality, Brammer even happened—allegedly—to have been among the reporters standing nearby when Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. As for his own life, the material is thinner. The book benefits from input from Brammer’s daughters and ex-wives, but as Daugherty himself asks at the end, “What would have been different if he had not been around”? The answer is probably very little, especially as the reader watches Brammer’s long substance-abuse–fueled decline. His life is still notable as an example of a talented life gone awry, but Daugherty doesn’t quite make the case that it deserves such an exhaustive treatment. (Oct.)