Title: A Night at the Ariston Baths
Author: Michael Murphy
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: April 25, 2016
Page Count: 230
Reviewed by: Vallie
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
In rural Pennsylvania, Theodore McCall lives on his family’s farm and works as a clerk at the local general store. While his best friend, Martin Fuller, thrives in New York City, Theodore trudges through life. But on New Year’s Eve, 1902, Theodore’s world is turned upside down, and big changes call for bold action.
Theodore, who has never ventured more than eight miles from home, undertakes the daunting journey to New York City to join Martin. But the Martin he finds in New York is a stranger, a different man, doing things Theodore finds shocking. After just two months in the City, Theodore’s world is upended again as he and Martin are swept up in the events at the Ariston Baths.
Haunted by his experiences in New York, Theodore returns home, wondering whether he’ll ever find happiness in life. When he meets Jasper Webb, Theodore must boldly risk everything for the love he so longs for.
This was very different to my usual reads –a historical, for one, which I don’t pick often, and not really a romance. But it was well written, well-researched, and maintained the air of reading something important.
Theodore was a young gay man living in a small town and working as a clerk in a general store circa 1903. His best friend and former lover had moved to New York to explore more exciting things 2 and a half years prior and Theodore felt like he was in a rut. He was working a job that didn’t allow him to utilise his academic skills but had a very good relationship with his employer, Mr. Hoffman. Some unfortunate complications with Mr. Hoffman’s family caused Theodore to lose his job. That encouraged him to take the plunge and move to New York to start an adventure with his friend, Martin. That’s where the real events of the Ariston Baths’ raid occurred which Theodore was a part of for the purposes of this book.
Because this story truly unfolds as a journey in so many ways, I will refrain from talking in detail about the plot. The story itself dealt with a very unpleasant time in the US when homosexuality was a crime and people went to prison for committing it. Theodore himself did not serve prison time, but he experienced the hatred and vindictiveness by proxy. I was actually surprised by how not melancholy the vibe was. The story is about Theodore’s life and the while the consequences of the Ariston Baths events affected him, the focus was on the different stages he went through from a young man until he was in his 90s, happy and in love with the love of his life, Jasper. Theodore met Jasper around 75% in, so the story is not about romantic love in the early 1900s. Rather, it’s a story about hope and kindness and finding love in the most unlikely of circumstances. Most importantly, it’s a story about making it work.
The writing was warm and made me feel as if I was watching a movie. Along with Theodore, I experienced everything new and saw everything as he did. The author did an amazing job at not taking anything for granted and focusing attention on what would have been scary and overwhelming to a 20 something year old who hadn’t seen much of the world. And while I missed that the story was not about Theodore finding love as such, he had such kind heart that he won me over regardless. When the romantic interest was introduced, it was with the peaceful tone that the rest of the story was told –just another landmark in Theodore’s life experiences and accomplishments.
I really really enjoyed this more than I thought I would and I read it all without a break start to finish. Not everyone will love it, because it’s not primarily a romance, but the book is carved around a significant historic event and presented through the eyes of an everyman with a heart of gold. A true American success story.
PS. That cover is absolutely gorgeous!