Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise

Hanover Square: Harlequin. Jun. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781335475183. $27.99. SOC SCI
Parlett’s (literary theory, Oxford Univ.; The Poetics of Cruising) literary history of Fire Island also uses memoir and social history to document gay and lesbian life and arts in the beach community on New York’s Long Island. The literary side of Fire Island goes back to Walt Whitman, with an overwhelming cast of more recent luminaries (W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Patricia Highsmith, Larry Kramer, Frank O’Hara). For some writers and artists, Fire Island was a place of respite and creativity; others just used it a quick getaway, and queer people discovered it to be a place of freedom. Long before Stonewall, Fire Island became a refuge from the threats to queer New Yorkers; its house parties, discos, and beach cruising made for a uniquely liberating experience. Parlett also notes the AIDS crisis’s effect on Fire Island’s culture. Among the most poetic and moving parts of this beautifully written book are Parlett’s own memories of New York City, Fire Island, and his growth as a gay man.
VERDICT Readers of all stripes will appreciate this fast-paced general interest title.
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