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Ambition, Art and Love in ‘Smash Cut’ by Brad Gooch

Smash CutIn 1978, Brad Gooch was a struggling writer living in a studio apartment in the West Village in Manhattan. Helped along by a mixture of cigarettes, marijuana and vodka, Gooch spent his days trying to string words together before heading out at night. During one of these binges, Gooch meant film student Howard Brookner. The two immediately connected, starting a complicated relationship that would weather various personal and professional challenges until Howard’s untimely death from AIDS in 1989.

In Smash Cut, Gooch tells the story of their relationship, set against the wild, bohemian life of New York City in the 1970s and the challenging, heartbreaking reality of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. This lovely, challenging memoir showed me so much about a time period I didn’t know much about and piqued my interest in learning more.

One of the things about this memoir that interested me the most is that Smash Cut is a love story told at a time when there really was no model for what a gay love story could or should be. In a time when so many people were starting to explore their sexuality in a secret but semi-public way, it’s not surprising that relationships would be more fluid and complicated than seems comfortable today. As Gooch writes in the introduction:

When Howard and I were together in a complex fandango that included living together, and living separately, and being monogamous, and pursuing three-ways, or separate boyfriends, the option of two men having a legal marriage, recognized under state law, did not even remotely exist. We were boyfriends, or lovers, or friends with a capital F, but not husbands, or even partners. No event horizon for such a life choice was at all visible.

This is, I think, one of the central threads of the memoir, how these two men who clearly loved and cared for each other deeply, navigated all of the traditional demands of a relationship – careers and families and friends and finances – in a context where a traditional partnership wasn’t even possible. Gooch is able to write about these different tensions beautifully, and shows well some of the conflicts he and Brookner faced together and apart.

One of the areas where I felt the memoir lacked a little bit is in some of the broader contexts about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Although Gooch acknowledges this a bit in the introduction, I couldn’t help wishing I’d read this memoir as a pairing with a book I’ve been meaning to read forever – And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts. As much as I enjoyed this memoir, I also wanted to know more about how the AIDS crisis developed and what some of the different public and governmental responses were like. Smash Cut is intimately focused on this single relationship which is lovely but also, in some ways, a limiting perspective.

But like I said, it’s hard to fault a book for not doing everything you hope it will do when the author clearly indicates that it’s his intention to focus closely to a single story. Instead, I’ll leave you with this final paragraph from the introduction of the book, which I think sums it all up rather better than I can:

There is no way for me to separate out the story of the fabulousness and horror of the years from 1978 to 1989, and a little before and a little after, from Howard – my lover, or my boyfriend, or Friend, or whatever we were to each other. Writing down my own lyrics to that song that I can’t get out of my head, I wind up coming back to Howard, as that era for me always meant coming home to Howard, whatever “home” meant for us. If I were forced to choose one trait that defined us, and our generation, and those times, I’d have to say that we were romantics. It was a romantic time. The history I’m left with turns out to be of Howard and Brad, face-to-face, with some very interesting, very lively action going on in the deep background.

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour

tlc logoOther Tour Stops: (April 7) missris | (April 8) Freda’s Voice | (April 10) Raven Haired Girl | (April 13) Inner Workings of the Female Mind | (April 16) In the Garden of Eva | (April 21) Bell, Book and Candle | (April 22) Wordsmithonia | (April 23) Bibliotica | (April 27) Reviews by Amos Lassen | (April 28) Conceptual Reception | (April 29) Queerly Seen | (April 30) Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers | (May 1) Thoughts on This ‘n That

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  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes April 9, 2015, 9:46 am

    It’s so sad to think that some of the freedoms people are fighting for today couldn’t even be seen on the horizon during the ’70s and ’80s. This sounds like a really fascinating book!

  • Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours April 9, 2015, 10:52 pm

    “is a love story told at a time when there really was no model for what a gay love story could or should be” This is such an important thing to point out. That time was very different that today (not that today is perfect by any means) and it is worth keeping in mind.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

    • Kim Ukura April 11, 2015, 6:37 pm

      It’s so strange to think of that as the case, but it probably shouldn’t be, given that gay marriage isn’t even legal all over the country today. But at least now it’s in the realm of possibility.

      • Christy April 14, 2015, 7:24 pm

        I can second Jenny’s recommendation. In fact, I think it was her recommendation that steered me to it in the first place. It’s an incredible history of the early years of AIDS in the United States and absolutely engrossing.

        • Kim Ukura April 15, 2015, 7:16 pm

          It just came in the mail today. Dang, it’s a huge book! But looks great. Hopefully I can get to it soon.

  • trish April 10, 2015, 1:08 am

    It’s never occurred to me to wonder what it would be like to have a relationship that doesn’t even have the possibility of an ultimate formal union. I can see how that would make things a lot more complicated. Howard and Brad certainly lived during an interesting, if sad, time.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End April 10, 2015, 10:34 am

    Oh you should read And the Band Played On. You should read it so hard. You should read it this weekend. Just decide to read, like, the first three chapters. Just the first three! And I bet you will find it so engrossing that you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve finished it. That is, at least, what happened to me.

    • Kim Ukura April 11, 2015, 6:38 pm

      I checked all of my Get Books Immediately sources, and none of them had a copy! I will have to do an ebook or order a copy, as soon as possible. I’m glad for the endorsement!

  • Heather @ Book Addiction April 11, 2015, 9:13 am

    I do love memoirs and this one sounds great. But I also want to read And the Band Played On after yours and Jenny’s encouragement. I’ll have to find both of them at my library.

  • Jeanne April 11, 2015, 8:21 pm

    I might be able to read this one if it doesn’t offer a broader context for AIDS in the 80s. Still not ready to read that, remembering late friends who graduated from college with me around 1982.

    • Kim Ukura April 13, 2015, 8:59 pm

      From what I remember, the book doesn’t go into much detail about the AIDS crisis (at least for someone like me who is largely unfamiliar). There are some mentions of headlines, references to some current events, but it really is focused in on Brad and Howard and his experience as a lover and caregiver after Howard’s diagnosis. That said, he doesn’t sugar coat much in how quickly Howard was affected by his illness and what it did to him. Those parts were hard to read.

  • Laurie C April 13, 2015, 5:59 am

    I’m with Jeanne, in that I graduated from college in ’83, when I first started hearing about AIDS, but more as a distant danger. I’ve never read And the Band Played On, either, but it sounds like a good pairing with this one.