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.
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.