Book Reviews ~ Wild Animals I have Known: Polk Street Diaries and After & Let's Shut Out the World by Kevin Bentley
In the late ’70s there was a massive migration of young gay men to San Francisco. They left home in droves, traveling by plane, bus, Pinto or Volkswagen towards a life free from discrimination. Struggling to make ends meet, many worked in bookstores and restaurants, all the while taking advantage of a scene of sexual hedonism. Kevin Bentley faithfully kept a frank, literate diary of his experiences as this generation of gay men tumbled into the era of AIDS.
*Note this review will be cross posted at Divine Magazine and on my personal blog, Bayou Book Junkie*
In 1977, Kevin drops out of college, packs up his 1969 Volkswagen and leaves Texas behind for San Francisco. Written in short journal entries, this memoir chronicles Kevin's exploits into drugs, sex, friendships and romantic relationships over the two decades that follow. Starting in the late 1970's, Kevin discovers San Francisco's gay sexual liberation and moves between numerous one night stands(sometimes without even exchanging names), friends with benefits and even a few meaningful romantic relationships.
This was very candid look at gay life in the late 70's and 80's, and into the early 90's in San Francisco. It was an interesting, intriguing and very erotic read. Kevin's writing is witty and humorous. It kept me entertained and turning the pages. I found I couldn't put it down, I had to see where his journey would lead. To see if he would ever find the love he seemed to so desperately desire.
The book does briefly touch on the subject of the AIDS epidemic, because in this time period and location, how could it not? Yes, the subject matter is deep, and the author suffers much personal loss, but he keeps the entries brief and on the lighter side. It is sad, and while I did need a tissue or two, I wasn't left a blubbering mess.
While this was a well written, fast paced and very enjoyable read, I want to stress before you open this book that if you are looking for something deep and meaningful, this isn't it. The author comes to no heavy realizations and the subject matters that were so huge at that time, such as the gay rights movement, politics and the AIDS crisis are very rarely, if ever, touched upon. I'd still highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in what the lighter and more promiscuous side of San Francisco gay life was all about during this time.
You can find my other reviews for Divine Magazine at ~ http://divinemagazine.net/jreviews/my...
The narrator of these autobiographical stories and personal essays has man trouble--trouble with his homophobic father, his horny best friend, his rigid high school principal, and a slew of "fauxmosexuals" and elusive boyfriends--and a knack for butting heads with fundamentalist Christians. Bitingly funny and at times harrowingly sad, Let’s Shut Out the World traces the man-hungry and misanthropic journey of an intensely bibliophilistic young man following his natural bent from a desolate Texas landscape of tumbleweeds, Jesus freaks, and compliant straight boys to the gay capital of San Francisco in pursuit of sex, drugs, a lover, and more.
Whether describing having his hair styled by a gang of eighth-grade bullies; staging a Satan festival in the main hall of Greenvale High complete with black robes, black candles, and raw chickens; succumbing to a sneezing fit inside the healing Sanctuary at Chimayo; or indulging in inappropriate sex with a caregiver, Bentley writes with a pen dipped in blood, indignation, and grim whimsy.
This collection also provides the back story and sequel, and vividly fills out the author’s rough-and-ready romantic escapades detailed in his diaries, the Lambda Literary Award finalist for memoir, Wild Animals I Have Known.
When I finished Kevin Bentley's Memoir, "Wild Animals I Have Known: Polk Street Diaries And After", I immediately asked for this book, unfortunately because of my reading schedule I was unable to dive right in. I absolutely loved the first book, but I was left with a huge book hangover. Nothing I tried to read satisfied me. I was stuck in a rut and wanting to know so much more about where Kevin came from and where he ended up. I knew the basics, he comes from El Paso, Texas, part of the Bible
Belt, A place very unforgiving of homosexuality. I know he ends up in San Francisco in 1977 and eventually married to his now husband, Paul. I knew about all his drug use, sexual exploits and also about the not one, but two men he loved deeply, who were both heartbreaking lost to the AIDS epidemic along with the slew of his friends, sexual partners, acquaintances and neighbors who also succumbed to this horrible disease.
These essays, a prequel and sequel to the original memoir, offered me what I was so badly craving. A deeper look at the time in his life before he left for California. His first exploits into sex and drugs. A closer look at Jack and Richard, the aforementioned lovers and of course how he met and fell in love with Paul and a small look at their life together.
These 13 essays are just as riveting and entertaining as his memoir. While profoundly more serious in places and somewhat sadder, they are still told with Mr. Bentley's charming wit and humor. I think this continuation of his story offered me the closure I so desperately needed to move on. Highly recommended!!