Many years ago, when you could still make money writing gay erotica (PORN), I used to write erotic short stories and edit themed volumes of it. I had always thought the concept of “daddy”–while possibly viewed as slightly off and strange and problematic by the mainstream–would make a great theme for an erotica anthology, potentially called Oh Daddy! Alas, before I could get around to doing it, that market had begun drying out; the last erotica anthology I edited–which had a great theme, I might add–did not do very well in print, alas. So my plans for Oh Daddy! wound up being scrapped; a pity, because I was certain I’d get some great and interesting stories on this dynamic.
The concept of “daddy” in the gay community is, to say the least, a bit controversial, and it’s really not defined; it can mean any number of things to any number of different people. The most common, of course, is its usage regarding age differences; an older man with a significantly younger boyfriend is often referred to as a “daddy” or “his daddy”; the assumption is the age difference inevitably favors the older man in the power dynamic of the couple–and we also tend to always think that there is some sort of benefit to being the older man’s “boy” (although “boy/daddy” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with age, either); whether it’s financial, emotional, both, or something else–we always assume the younger man is, at the very least, being paid for/taken care of financially by the older man…especially if the older man is, say, a celebrity or wealthy or successful; why else would the younger man tie himself to an older one?
But this is heteronormativity at its finest, really (although younger women with successful older men aren’t always necessarily gold diggers, either; I’m not sure why we automatically always look at these May/December romances with such judgement and askance); younger man can be attracted to older men both romantically and sexually; there are no set rules of attraction, after all…and youth isn’t always an indication of sexual or emotional immaturity. I am always struck by that photo of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy from when they first became a couple, back when Isherwood was in his thirties or forties and Bachardy a teenager; they look like father and son in the picture, with Bachardy literally looking like he’s just walked off the set of The Mickey Mouse Club in T-shirt and dungarees, with a sling shot in his back pocket and a cowlick. Yet they stayed a loving, committed couple for the next thirty or so years, until Isherwood’s death; but how differently would such a relationship be viewed today? A seventeen year old and a man in his late thirties/early forties?
So when I heard about Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s debut novel, Yes Daddy, I was interested in reading it and seeing its take on the topic.
And I was not disappointed–although it was absolutely nothing like I was expecting.
You asked me to be a witness in the trial.
I owed you my life and so I said yes.
What does one wear to a rape testimony? Your lawyer and I debated this endlessly. Nothing too tight, nothing too baggy, nothing too ratty, nothing too expensive, something sexless yet attractive, a suit jacket perhaps, but nothing flashy, a light navy was best, black was too morbid, too dark. I wanted to seem serious but not angry, definitely not vengeful; maybe glasses were a good idea, but the frames had to be simple, nothing flamboyant, nothing too gay, nothing that might trigger juror prejudice. Something to wear while the world decided if I had been raped.
Something that said, believe me.
I dreaded out rehearsals for the witness stand. Your lawyer’s endless questions. What did the basement look like? How many men? What did they do to you? I never slept, barely ate. Walked through the world a husk, disconnected from my body. Pain was the only thing that cut the numbness. I picked the skin around my fingernails with my teeth, tasting the blood on my tongue, repeating the process until all my digits were crusted in scabs.
Finally, the day of the trial arrived.
I don’t even know where to start with this book, to be honest.
I guess I can start by saying it’s very well done; the writing is terrific, and the tension/suspense are such that you cannot stop turning the pages in order to find out what happens next. Jonah Keller, the main character, is a fugitive from the midwest with evangelical parents–his father was a preacher–and he’s also an “ex-gay therapy” refugee. He no longer has a relationship with his father, and his relationship with his mother–still fervently religious–is fraught. He’s moved to New York to start his life over again, and his ambition is to write, be a playwright…but like so many others who moved to the big city with dreams of fame and fortune, he’s stuck in a nowhere job waiting tables at a shitty bistro and subletting an apartment he really can’t afford. He spends his rent money on an outfit so he can attend an event where he might meet his idol, hugely successful (and handsome) gay playwright Richard Shriver…hoping to meet and perhaps even catch his eye. Jonah’s plan is successful, and they begin an affair, with Richard buying him clothes, taking him out to expensive meals, giving him cash to cover his bills…and even offers to read Jonah’s work, maybe even help him get it workshopped and produced on stage.
All of Jonah’s dreams are coming true–but there’s always a fly in the ointment, isn’t there?
Richard brings Jonah out to his compound–where three of his closest friends also have houses–out in the Hamptons, and this is where Jonah begins to realize something isn’t quite right; not only with his relationship but with this entire set-up. There are four sexy, hot waiters on the property, usually serving meals to the people living on the compound wearing only black bikinis…and the dynamics of everything; their relationship, the friends, their future–begins shifting and going in directions that make toxic look like a far-off, distant hope to work towards. Saying anymore would be a spoiler–the book changes directions with shocking twists (but every last one of them is set up before you get there, but you still don’t see them coming) and the book and story become something completely different from what you were expecting at the start…and it’s a compulsive thriller; you simply can’t put it down. I read it through in one sitting last week, and passed it on Paul who ALSO read it in one setting–and he’s a very slow reader.
I greatly enjoyed this debut, highly recommend it, and look forward to seeing more work from Parks-Ramage; this is one of the best gay thrillers I’ve ever read.