Barkley paints, in vivid and touching detail, his torment as a repressed gay man at the dawn of the AIDS era, and how, as he grew older, his drinking drove him toward the edge of total ruin. Throughout, uncertainty about who he is and who he should be powers the narrative, with heartbreaking moments like leaving bars with women for whom he felt no attraction just so that people would see he had done so, and feeling “kicked in the stomach” at a 1980 campaign event, at Ronald Reagan’s insistence that a gay “culture and lifestyle is harmful to our people and our country.” Only after losing his house, his friend, and his business in a legal profession where word-of-mouth matters does he begin to seriously consider seeking help for his drinking.
Even as an openly gay man, five years sober and able at last to establish and protect healthy relationships, Barkley still faces a daunting challenge: coming out to his father, “larger than life, formidable, and bulletproof,” who once ran moonshine and had long been Barkley’s favorite drinking buddy. The memoir alternates between the coming-of-age-narrative and Barkley going to see his father in the hospital after a heart attack. Barkley builds to this encounter with grace and power but telling his story in a voice so conversational you can almost hear the accent. This is a gripping, touching read.
Takeaway: Touching story of coming out and finding sobriety after a hard southern childhood.
Comparable Titles: Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man, Kevin Jennings’s Mama's Boy, Preacher’s Son.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
“His story is fascinating as it explores poverty, sobriety, and the ways in which toxic masculinity can warp one’s sense of self.”