Cover image for Becoming a man : half a life story
Becoming a man : half a life story
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1992.
Physical Description:
278 p.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 MON 1 1

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A child of the 1950s from a small New England town, "perfect Paul" earns straight A's and shines in social and literary pursuits, all the while keeping a secret -- from himself and the rest of the world. Struggling to be, or at least to imitate, a straight man, through Ivy League halls of privilege and bohemian travels abroad, loveless intimacy and unrequited passion, Paul Monette was haunted, and finally saved, by a dream of "the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing." Searingly honest, witty, and humane, Becoming a Man is the definitive coming-out story in the classic coming-of-age genre.

Author Notes

Paul Monette was born on October 16, 1945 in Lawrence, Mass., and has published numerous poetry collections, novels, novelizations, memoirs, and nonfiction works. A distinguished author of both poetry and prose, Monette's writings often explored issues relating to homosexuality and AIDS.

After receiving critical acclaim in 1975 for a poetry collection The Carpenter at the Asylum, he veered away from his mainstay theme and produced an unlikely pair of books that demonstrated his poet's way with words. The books were No Witnesses, a collection of poems featuring imaginary adventures of famous figures, written in 1981, and The Long Shot, a mystery in which an avid shopper and a forger team to solve a murder. However, his following mystery, Lightfall, written in 1982, was not well-received by the critics. Monette next wrote Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1992. His last work, Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise, was a collection of 10 moving and uncompromising essays dealing with topics such as his beloved dog Puck and the 1993 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington, D.C.

Paul Monette died as a result of complications from AIDS on February 18, 1995.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Monette responds to readers of his first memoir, Borrowed Time, by providing the flip-side expository of his life in the closet until he met his soul mate--the laughing man, Roger Horwitz. This memoir (which might more aptly have been titled Wasted Time ) is a bitter reproach of the 27 years Monette spent searching for himself. He explains that it took him years to realize that the homophobe is the deviant. Reading this beautifully written book, one feels as trapped by its dark mood as the author was by the closet. The writing is occasionally marred, however, by repetitive phrases, such as ``playing courtier,'' ``the closet'' and the endless search for ``the laughing man.'' The story also unfolds choppily due to frequent references to the future. Nevertheless, the book is a heartfelt illumination of how a gay person overcame the self-reproach that societal condemnation enacts. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

"I don't know whether I'll live to finish this" is the first sentence of Monette's superb memoir of his lover Roger's last years with AIDS, Borrowed Time [BKL Je 1 88]. Live he did, though, finishing that book and two excellent novels also concerned with AIDs, Afterlife [BKL F 1 90] and Halfway Home [BKL Ap 1 91]. And now there is this autobiography of his closeted, self-denying youth, a book in which virtually every gay man will see himself; with which virtually every lesbian and bisexual will empathize, often pain~fully; which will powerfully move the parents, sib~lings, and friends of gays; and which may even cause a few habitually hardened antigay hearts to soften. Not that Monette's experience has been utterly typical. His family included a brother crippled since birth, a circumstance that increased his own guilt over being abnormal and the pressure to make good (which was relieved as that intelligent brother became a resourceful young man). The same guilty drive to excel (so as to distract--to cover up) propelled him into Ivy League prep school and college scholarships and spurred his nascent literary career. But he found he had nothing real to write about, for he had lived an entirely closeted youth. He went into therapy, tried to form relationships with women, playing the field extensively if not very potently, and started to come out and play that field. And then he met Roger. The reader's relief at this outcome is as great as Monette's, for no other writer writes with as powerful an emotional charge, so that completing this book confers the kind of purgation that perhaps Aristotle had in mind. Very frequently as witty as it is anguished and as full of understanding as of anger, this is Monette's best book, maybe one of the great American autobiographies. ~--Ray Olson

Kirkus Review

From ``the cauldron of the plague'' comes a bitter memoir by the author of Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir (1988) and six novels (Halfway Home, 1991, etc.). ``Twisted up with rage,'' Monette is urgent to tell his story: ``the fevers are on me now, the virus mad to ravage my last hundred T cells.'' He begins with his straight-A childhood, darkened by his brother being crippled by spina bifida. But the source of Monette's fury comes from growing up in ``the coffin world of the closet,'' losing a ``decade of being dead below the belt,'' and now finding himself a victim of what he calls ``the genocide by indifference that has buried alive a generation of my brothers.'' Clearly, Monette wants to berate and shock this ``Puritan sinkhole of a culture'' with crude language (``Roger was up to his tits in therapy'' is a printable example) and explicit accounts of his homosexual encounters, starting as a nine-year-old. After describing a one-night stand, he mockingly asks, ``Is this more than you want to know?'' and then explains that a late lover advised, ``rub their faces in it.'' Monette does. Later, he writes, ``I was so sick of hearing myself talk about sexuality--hetero, homo, and otherwise.'' But despite the pose of no-holds-barred honesty, the author's diatribe offers only a predictable view of his elite schools (Andover and Yale) and little on gender theory beyond the statement that ``gay is a kind of sensibility.'' The offhand prose veers from the flip (``I try not to be gayer-than- thou about bi'') to the melodramatic (``I have to keep my later self on a short leash as I negotiate those hurricanes of feeling that propelled my time with women''). A deliberately self-absorbed manifesto from the AIDS battlefield, angrily slicing the world into us and them.

Library Journal Review

In this prequel to his Borrowed Time ( LJ 8/88), Monette has written a poignant, bittersweet memoir of growing up a closeted gay man and later coming to accept his gay persona. It is a story of a man struggling half his life to come out. Monette recounts in vivid detail his early life in Andover, Massachusetts, his college years at Yale University, his teaching career at a prep school, and the struggle between his gay identity and society's homophobic attitudes. Each stage of his personal journey is described at an intimate, insightful, human level. Monette states in the first chapter, ``I still shiver with a kind of astonished delight when a gay brother or sister tells of that narrow escape from the coffin of the closet . . . . It was just like that for me.'' Recommended for public and academic libraries.-- Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Lib., Ind. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Becoming a Man Half a Life Story Chapter One Everybody else had a childhood, for one thing-where they were coaxed and coached and taught all the shorthand. Or that's how it always seemed to me, eavesdropping my way through twenty-five years, filling in the stories of straight men's lives. First they had their shining boyhood, which made them strong and psyched them up for the leap across the chasm to adolescence, where the real rites of manhood began. I grilled them about it whenever I could, slipping the casual question in while I did their Latin homework for them, sprawled on the lawn at Andover under the reeling elms. And every year they leaped further ahead, leaving me in the dust with all my doors closed, and each with a new and better deadbolt. Until I was twenty-five, I was the only man I knew who had no story at all. I'd long since accepted the fact that nothing had ever happened to me and nothing ever would. That's how the closet feels, once you've made your nest in it and learned to call it home. Self-pity becomes your oxygen. I speak for no one else here, if only because I don't want to saddle the women and men of my tribe with the lead weight of myself-hatred, the particular doorless room of my internal exile. Yet I've come to learn that all our stories add up to the same imprisonment. The self-delusion of uniqueness. The festering pretense that we are the same as they are. The gutting of all our passions till we are a bunch of eunuchs, our zones of pleasure in enemy hands. Most of all, the ventriloquism, the learning how to pass for straight. Such obedient slaves we make, with such very tidy rooms. Forty-six now and dying by inches, I finally see how our livesalign at the core, if not in the sorry details. I still shiver with akind of astonished delight when a gay brother or sister tells ofthat narrow escape from the coffin world of the closet. Yes yes yes, goes a voice in my head, it was just like that for me . When we laughtogether then and dance in the giddy circle of freedom, we arechildren for real at last, because we have finally grown up. Andevery time we dance, our enemies writhe like the Witch in Oz ,melting, melting--the Nazi Popes and all their brocaded minions, the rat-brain politicians, the wacko fundamentalists andtheir Book of Lies. We may not win in the end, of course. Genocide is still the national sport of straight men, especially in this century of nightmares. And death by AIDS is everywhere around me, seething through the streets of this broken land. Last September I buried another lover, Stephen Kolzak-- died of homophobia, murdered by barbaric priests and petty bureaucrats. So whether or not I was ever a child is a matter of very small moment. But every memoir now is a kind of manifesto, as we piece together the tale of the tribe. Our stories have died with us long enough. We mean to leave behind some map, some key, for the gay and lesbian people who follow--that they may not drown in the lies, in the hate that pools and foams like pus on the carcass of America. I don't come from the past, I come from now, here in the cauldron of plague. When the doors to the camps were finally beaten down, the Jews of Europe no longer came from Poland and Holland and France. They came from Auschwitz and Buchenwald. But I will never understand how the straights could have let us die like this--year after year after year, collaborating by indifference--except by sifting through the evidence of my queer journey. Why do they hate us? Why do they fear us? Why do they want us invisible? I don't trust my own answers anymore. I'm too twisted up with rage, too hooked on the millennium. But I find myself combing the past these days, dreaming dreams without sleep, puzzling over my guys, the gay and the straight and the inbetween. Somewhere in there is a horror of love, and to try to kill the beast in them, they take it out on us. Which is not to say I don't chastise myself for halving the world into us and them. I know that the good guys aren't all gay, or the bad all straight. That is what I am sifting for, to know what a man is finally, no matter the tribe or gender. Put it this way. A month after Stevie died, running from grief, I drove three days through Normandy. In the crystalline October light I walked the beach at Omaha, scoped the landing from a German bunker, then headed up the pasture bluff to the white field of American crosses. American soil in fact, this ocean graveyard, unpolluted even by the SS visit of Reagan in '84, who couldn't tell the difference between the dead here and the dead at Bitburg. You can't do Normandy without D-Day. After Omaha, the carnage and heroism shimmer across the pastureland, ghosts of the soldiers who freed the world of evil for a while. Two days later I fetched up in Caen, where they've built a Museum of Peace on the site of an eighty-day battle fought by three million men. Newsreel footage and camp uniforms, ration books, code breakers, yellow star and pink triangle. You watch it all happen like a slow bomb, from the end of World War I, the dementia of power, till the smithereens are in smithereens. You walk numbly from year to year, country to country, helpless as a Jew or a Gypsy or a queer. Becoming a Man Half a Life Story . Copyright © by Paul Monette. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Becoming A Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.