Marion Zimmer Bradley ~ The Catch Trap

Marion Zimmer Bradley ~ The Catch Trap
From: Ballantine Books

UPDATE: NOW ON KINDLE!

The first rule is when falling not to miss the net.

I was a closeted teenage gay geek. Yep, I was being raised in a very strict “Holy Roller” household and far too aware of my homosexuality and the pain it would eventually cause me and those around me and (Thank god!) I had a ravenous curiosity to read. One day after finding a suitable library far enough away from my parents and my neighborhood and with librarians who were… how shall I say this… “not worried as to my exact age” I started picking up and reading any and all gay literature I could get my grubby hands on.

Let me tell you, most of the gay “coming-out” literature out there is depressing!

Sorry but even as young and inexperienced as I was I knew I in no way wanted to become a depressed stage actor, a flighty screen director, sing show tunes in drag, worry about my cloths or hair, hang with the tawdry scandalous rich and famous, or be involved with men who hold such things in much import. 
Unfortunately in most gay literature shelves in a small public library filled to the brim with “dead white guys” even back in the late 70s, early 80s, this leaves you with pretty much nothing but the porno section to hold your interest.

This leads me here, to probably the one book that even came close to having any meaning for me at that time. You might know of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s highly entertaining writings like the vast Darkover science fiction series and the gorgeous Avalon Arthurian fantasy series of books. You might even know that she helped found the Society for Creative Anachronism here in the Bay Area. You might be aware of the real life scandals surrounding her involving the two husbands she married both of whom were considered to be gay and one of whom was an accused pedophile.

I highly doubt though that you have ever read her most ambitious work and the best damn teenage gay male romance I have ever come across.

The Catch Trap was originally titled The Flyers and was actually written and completed in first draft back in 1948 but not published until 1979.

This particular book (considered by her family and close friends to be her best work) was unfortunately hidden in the fiction stacks well away from public view, to be kept away from curious children and sensitive adults, due to the fact that unlike her science fiction and fantasy stories this one was very above board in it’s gay romance subject matter.

In fact it was one of the first gay romances I ever read, between two young masculine kids, with a realistic well researched circus setting and containing a very taboo topic, and most threatening of all it was entertaining. The story is heavily populated with factual historical circus minutia and lots of Italian family members and assorted characters both gay and straight, the real “core” story centers on Mario Santelli (of The Flying Santelli’s) and Tommy Zane Jr. (the Lion Tamer’s kid) both living and training (in the beginning of the book) at a second tier circus during the 1940’s.
 Mario is 20 and Tommy is 14 when they meet, Mario allows Tommy to start working with him on the trapeze. Tommy’s dreams of becoming a flyer like Mario are quickly realized when he starts to show a real talent. Tommy slowly evolves from a typical boyish childhood crush on Mario to an almost heart aching first love that culminates in eventual notice and reciprocation from Mario.

Sexual tension leads to a few stolen kisses to some heavy petting, then proceeds from there.

Which brings on the whole still taboo subject matter involving sex between a very young adult man and a teenage boy, even though it is entirely impromptu and consensual, given Tommy could have very publicly rejected Mario in my opinion, and very much a part of the gay teenage coming of age story being told. The whole concern I hear over this is just overblown and silly, at this age these kids were both pretty bad at sex anyway. We are not talking anywhere near the level of pornographic description I have read in most straight historical romance books having this same age setup of only a six years age difference, here it was just more awkward and emotional and tense than any real heavy breathing sexy action.

Now don’t go getting the idea this is all about Mario, the senior of the two, leading Tommy on, a lot of the initial seduction is fully on Tommy’s part seen with his POV front and center with Mario scared witless that they will be caught (He’s right they are) and he alone will be blamed (Right again).
 I was rooting for Tommy to keep hitting on the guy and thinking to myself, yum, muscular Italian stud in tights, I’d hit it!
 (At the time I kept picturing Mikhail Baryshnikov from the movie The Turning Point, hubba hubba, whenever he turned his back to the camera in those tights and showed those round perky luscious buttocks that I had the distinct urge to plant my face firmly between them and… Never mind)

The book falls into two large sections the 1940’s and the 1950’s.

Remember this was written over a long period of time during these years and should be considered contemporary in subject for that period. So do not be surprised by the obvious non-politically correct homosexual points of view. It was hard enough just to be a homosexual, to just have any type of contact with another man without getting thrown into jail, then add to that actually having a long term relationship or being very accepting of one’s self, well…

The first section is of Tommy and Mario meeting and training together and falling in love, then the eventual heartbreak and realization when The Flying Santelli’s troupe they are in falls apart that they too will have to break up and leave each other.

The second section takes place later in their lives when Tommy purposefully seeks Mario out and helps to not only rebuild the troupe (The Flying Santelli’s) but also rebuild a life in which he and Mario can remain together as an adult homosexual male couple.

The Catch Trap in my opinion is more than just the average gay or even straight epic historical romantic codpiece ripper. 
Sure there is sex and heartache and drama and lots of heavy sighs and a couple of very violent moments but they are not the best part. 
There are distinct gay life lessons, real valid messages falling out of these pages even though it is written by an obviously intelligent but none the less straight woman.

-Just because you fall in love with an older guy does not mean that his age will automatically make him the more mature of the two parties involved.

-Violence will eventually destroy any relationship and most likely your life.

-Sexuality should be an extension of your life and goals not the focus of it.

-Just because you can have sex with a woman does not mean you should and having a child won’t make you straight.

And last but not least…

-No matter how desperate and painful life gets because you were being honest about yourself, and who you really are, accept that you will survive and be better for it.

Pretty good stuff for a romance book huh?

All I know is a copy of this book remains forever in my library.

Besides All That…

Don’t get me wrong, the writing in The Catch Trap ain’t in any way, shape, or form, perfect and we are talking about a very very long book. Some of the early parts of the book have a little too much foreshadowing for real comfort. Lines like…

“It was the only promise to one another they never broke.”

I mean come on I’m 1/3 of the way through the book, I know there is more to this story, stop hinting about that and get on with it. Some of the later parts of the book get so philosophical and full of over justification I was cringing for some of the characters going so far outside of how they had been initially written.

Tommy turns into a thought bubble context factory in the second half of the book.

“It’s my job to get him back to the Coast in one piece. But it’s because I need to have him in one piece. But we’ve got to find a way to live together without tearing each other up this way. And it’s my job, because his nerves are all to pieces, and mine are in pretty good shape.”

It gets especially obvious that some of these internal discussions were not something that the character would actually be thinking and was planned to provide the required nice and tidy HEA ending Marion was going for.
 It just can become damn awkward reading.
 As far as endings go sometimes loose ends and unforgiving homophobic view points of secondary characters towards the couple left intact make a book more realistic for me, not everyone should become accepting at the romantic outcome or resolution of the story, just like real life is not perfect.

It’s just my guess that the bigger the book is the more glaring and lengthy the mistakes a writer may make. The Catch Trap is a huge book and still pays off ten times over despite these quibbles. This in my view really was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s best. So even though this book is out of print, all I can hope is for you to click over to Alibris and maybe pick up an old used copy for yourself Grade A.

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"Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Catch Trap" by TeddyPig was published on October 24th, 2010 and is listed in Ballantine Books, Gay Romance, Grade A, Marion Zimmer Bradley.

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Comments on "Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Catch Trap": 23 Comments

  1. Chris wrote,

    Don’t forget about half.com – they actually have a hardcover copy for under $11 (which, compared to the other prices listed for this title, is pretty amazing).

  2. K. Z. Snow wrote,

    I suspect public libraries, too, can come up with copies via their nationwide (in the U.S. that is) search system. I’ve gotten books from halfway across the continent.

    Nice to read your appraisal, Teddypig. I’m even more intrigued than I was before.

  3. Wave wrote,

    It was really enlighgtening to read your views about this book. I’m always interested in the perspective of gay men about M/M and/or gay books because as a straight woman I have no idea if the writer (straight) got it right. This book is huge at 590 pages and it requires a lot of heart to wade through any book of this size not knowing if it will be worth it at the end. In this case it obviously was. Great job on your review.

    I bought The Catch Trap on amazon from one of their resellers for $9 about 6 months ago so that’s anolther place to check out, for those who are looking to buy it..

  4. Ally Blue wrote,

    Dammit, every time I read another review of this thing I get one… more.. step.. closer… to having to read it >_<

    (I'm skeert of getting involved in ginormous books that make me have to keep reading them until I finish because I'll neglect my deadlines and other important things O_O )

  5. Dusk Peterson wrote,

    “Tommy is 15 when they meet”

    Fourteen, actually. See pages 4 and 10.

    I suspect that a lot of the controversy has to do with Bradley’s husband (skip down to “Six years later”). But if the tale about The Catch Trap’s origins is true (I can’t find any source for it on the Net other than the article you linked to), this makes me intrigued as to how that storyline was constructed. I’d always assumed that Bradley got the background to the novel from hanging aroud her husband and from her general connections with the gay community. (She was writing gay pulp fiction around the time she married, in the early 1960s.)

    But for heaven’s sakes, Bradley was eighteen years old in 1948. Where the heck did she get the idea for the plotline at that age, in an era when homosexuality was barely spoken about? Was this just another case of m/m plotlines coming naturally to an author, regardless of real-life experiences? Or did the circus story come first and the love story later?

    Incidentally, what I find funniest about the publication of this novel is the cover: “Men in love,” accompanied by a picture of two very muscular men. The publishers were sure doing their darnedest to cover up the controversial aspects of the plotline.

  6. TeddyPig wrote,

    Oops I better check that. I wrote this review up ages ago. Marion collected articles and memorabilia on the circus starting when she was very young it was a hobby of hers. So it does not surprise me, she wrote the first Darkover book The Spell Sword at what 16, that she did a circus story. Now it may not have been a Gay Romance at that time. Since on the surface it is just a coming of age story in the first section.

    There used to be an interview online of an old friend of Marion done right after her death that detailed the writing of The Catch Trap much better as far as the years that went into the book and as to why it is in two sections according to when she wrote them.

    Now from what I have read and I have two books on Marion the actual descriptions she has in the book about the development and progression of several aerial feats is factual to what the flyers attempted to do just the names were changed. As far as the main characters of Mario and Tommy I think they are probably representative of flyers that lived but most likely not the homosexual couple stuff.

  7. TeddyPig wrote,

    OK I figured it out. They meet when Tommy is 14 but the sex occurs later on so I was thinking what age they might be at the time they started having sex and then did not fix it when I decided to just go with when they met. I am scatter brained that way.

  8. Dusk Peterson wrote,

    “then did not fix it when I decided to just go with when they met.”

    Makes sense. :) And thanks for the added information about her writing process. Gosh, I wish that article was still online that mentioned how she wrote the novel. That would be fascinating to read.

    What are the two books you have on Bradley, if I may ask?

  9. TeddyPig wrote,

    Hard to find published commentary…

    Marion Zimmer Bradley: Mistress of Magic. a Working Bibliography

    Marion Zimmer Bradley: Starmont Reader’s Guide 27

    It’s all mostly about Darkover of course but there is mention of others she wrote.

  10. maygirl7 wrote,

    I was a huge fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series when I was a kid. After reading all of the Darkover books, I stumbled on the Catch Trap and read it because it was by MZB. It was the first book I can remember reading about being gay and made me feel like I could imagine being a gay man. It scared the crap out of me (i.e., in the same way reading and identifying with a character caught up in the Holocaust). Definitely one of my favorite books that changed my worldview. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who remembers and loves it.

  11. Stuff. « Rain on the Roof wrote,

    [...] am almost out of good books to read. So suggest away PLEASE!!!! I am bidding on an auction for The Catch Trap, but that will mean it is still a week or so away. Plus it looks like some new digital comics are [...]

  12. Dusk Peterson wrote,

    “Hard to find”

    The combination of access to interlibrary loan and living next door to the Library of Congress might be enough. :) Thanks!

  13. TeddyPig wrote,

    Do you live in DC? I miss that place. Some of my best friends live there.

  14. Dusk Peterson wrote,

    Yup, in the suburbs. If you ever come down here for a con, let me know, and maybe we can arrange for our paths to cross. I’ve met a few m/m writers and readers through the local slash con and through a quick visit to the RWA conference, but I missed Gaylaxicon when it was held here, darn it, because I had family matters to deal with. That’s about it for big GLBT literary events in the D.C. area, as far as I can tell.

    Well, unless one counts Laura Antoniou showing up at the M/s Conference. :)

  15. TeddyPig wrote,

    Oh if I came down it would most likely have to be for a Centaur function like MAL or something like that. They get upset if I don’t tell them I am coming to visit.

  16. Dusk Peterson wrote,

    “Centaur function like MAL”

    Well, cool, because I mean to make it to MAL one of these years. (It’s in the winter, when my eyes aren’t the best, so it all depends on the weather.)

  17. Eric Dale Eubanks wrote,

    This is one of my favorite books, too — and stands up so much better than others that were popular at the time [I came out at 17, in 1979, so my 'literary universe' was populated mostly by Patricia Nell Warren books, read covertly.].

    The circus and the historicity with which this stuff is explored is engrossing, as is the family saga. The love story is just so much gravy, and feels a lot more authentic, a lot more true, than most “gay novels” of the era did. {a la Gordon Merrick….eeesh.}

    Thanks for a good review, and for inspiring so many of those leaving comments here to go find a copy!

  18. The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley. « Rain on the Roof wrote,

    [...] Below are a few of my random thoughts. For a far more insightful analysis I suggest you check out Teddy Pig’s review, he’s the reason I spent considerable time ringing 2nd hand book shops around the country [...]

  19. AMRiley wrote,

    Awesome critique of the book. This is one of those that inspired hope, along with “Rubyfruit Jungle” and “Death Trick”.

    There does seem to have been a league of helpful librarians back in the day, lol.

    I’m pretty sure MZB eventually came out, though I often see her referred to as ‘straight’. Not that it is important or really matters at all to her books or to her readers. For young lesbians, desperately looking for role models, though, it was an important distinction.

  20. TeddyPig wrote,

    “I’m pretty sure MZB eventually came out”

    Well I am not so sure really I have never seen anything in all the statements I have read about her to suggest that she did and you have to admit she married twice and there are tons of rumors that may or may not be true.

    Coming from the generation she did I am more inclined to believe she kept sexuality to herself even if she wrote gay characters most wonderfully.

  21. Welcome To The Desert Of The Real… | The Naughty Bits wrote,

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  22. Teddy Pig Five Must Have eBooks | The Naughty Bits wrote,

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  23. Teddy Pig Must Have eBooks For Christmas | The Naughty Bits wrote,

    [...] Review: Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Catch Trap The Catch Trap is finally available on Fictionwise in non-DRM eBook formats. Go grab a copy if you [...]

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