Title: The Unmentionables
Author: Megan McFerren and Val Prozorova
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Release Date: September 6, 2017
Genre(s): Historical, Gay Literary Fiction
Page Count: 408
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
1950s Washington, DC. James has just accepted a teaching position for the State Department. But after too many drinks at his own housewarming party, he meets Henry, a doctor and his neighbor. Their connection is immediate, but after a drunken kiss they end up parting ways with alarm.
That’s just beginning of a story that spans two decades; a story of a secret relationship, strained marriages, crumbling lives, and ultimately a love strong enough to withstand all of it.
Henry and James (and their wives Clara and Kitty) are neighbors in DC in the early 1950’s; Henry is a doctor and James is a lecturer at FBI headquarters in Quantico. A glance across a crowded room, and one drunken kiss in the garage, and Henry and James fall in love, starting an affair full of stolen moments and one heart-achingly tender weekend away at a cabin. When they are together, they talk of those mundane everyday moments married couples take for granted – making coffee every morning for the one you love, quiet evenings together, the joy of sleeping next to each other. But in the early 1950’s when homosexuality was illegal, having the chance to realize those dreams seems impossible.
As an emigrant from Lithuania in post WWII America, Henry is used to the suspicions of being un-American. But when Eisenhower signs Executive Order 10450 allowing federal employees to be investigated to determine whether they posed security risks, i.e. “Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, or sexual perversion” suddenly James finds himself under investigation. After a perfect storm of problems (James has been asked to resign and Kitty tells him something that will change their lives forever), James checks himself into St. Elizabeth’s hospital in an effort to rid himself of this “sickness.” Google “Doctor Walter Freeman” if you want to be horrified, disgusted and sick to your soul about what was done in the guise of “curing” homosexuality.
I don’t want to spoil too much of this story for you, but … have faith. This story is not one of loss and sorrow, but one of joy, reconciliation and incredible love that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthans 13:7). And I love how Clara and Kitty are full-realized characters; Pragmatic Clara and Kitty who wanted to become a poet. The writing is simply beautiful throughout, but I particularly love this image of Kitty:
Henry stands in kind, watching as Kitty settles back into the self she presents to the world to satisfy what it wishes to see in her. A housewife, a caretaker, well-kept and put-together, unharried and unstressed, rather than a poet, a friend, whose insights and curiosities span far beyond clipping coupons and cleaning house.
I’ve done it – proclaimed “I loved this book” when a story hits my funny bone just right, or after reading the perfect book for that particular moment. And then when a truly amazing book comes along, I want to say “wait, wait … yes, okay, yes, that other book was 5 stars, but this one is ten stars, a hundred stars, heck, all the stars!” The Unmentionables is beautifully written, horrifyingly sad at points and ultimately so very satisfying. This story has haunted me since I read it. I highly recommend it and would give it “all the stars.”
This is no perversity, James tells himself, not this. This is no depravity. No crime. This is a gift that they were lucky to find in themselves and in each other, to share and to enjoy without the guilt that the world around them would shame them into feeling, to force into them if given the opportunity.