It’s always an honour when the authors of books I’ve connected with agree to appear on the Literary Sofa, but today is unique because I’m hosting someone whose writing I have not only enjoyed for a very long time but since before I had a clue who he was. Never one to be deterred by a little detail like that, I first invited well known blogger and columnist The Guyliner onto the blog years ago; he modestly declined on the grounds of not being sufficiently literary or something like that. It was a long shot.
Fast forward at least five years and look at us now! We each have two book deals to our name and my guest’s name, revealed when his debut the The Last Romeo came out, is Justin Myers. I am so excited that he’s joining me for the grand finale of the Summer Reads guest season with his thoughts on generational conflict, one of the themes of his new novel The Magnificent Sons. My review follows:
It’s internet law that any website that starts as a playground must eventually become a battleground. One of my least favourite arguments to observe from my vantage point firmly on the fence is generational warfare – the barrage of insults, assumptions and judgements slung at one another based on a birth date. The wanton destruction of society by millennials, devouring avocados and hoovering low-grade cocaine in the loos of their gentrified local. The entitled smugness of boomers, chillaxing in their plush second homes, bought for tuppence in a property slump. Bubbling under, Generation Z, enjoying the spoils of youth-obsessed culture and doling out dismissive eye-rolls with the confidence that only smooth skin and flexible joints can give.
These generational spats don’t speak to me. They’re damaging and counterproductive; they lack nuance, take too much for granted. The warring millennials and boomers taking up column-space seem to refer only to a scattering of middle-class people living so close to the centre of London they barely get through one chapter of The DaVinci Code on their commute. These are not my people. The young have always dismissed elders as out of touch, while the superannuated crew mourns the death of respect, but these generalisations are a dangerous distraction from the real issues affecting each generation. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Generational differences in the LGBTQ community were a leading inspiration for my second novel The Magnificent Sons, about two brothers who come out within a year of each other, at very different stages in their lives. Coming out is your Year Zero; coming out in 2020 and taking the plunge a decade earlier would be very different experiences. The fixed milestones of the heterosexual journey don’t work for us; there’s no standardised shower of rainbows and unicorns on a specific day of your seventeenth turn around the sun. Some escape the closet in their teens, while others stay peeping through the crack in the door, tiptoeing out in their twenties, middle-age or… unfortunately, never. In The Magnificent Sons, younger brother Trick is 17, gay, and fulfilling his destiny. Eldest child Jake, 29, has self-edited all his life, sacrificing his happiness to repress his bisexuality.
As a gay man in my… shall we say early forties (mid-forties), I’ve read many coming out stories. YA excels at contemporary portrayals of LGBTQ culture, but adult fiction tends to look to the past – I wanted to write about what it might be like to come out right now, not just as a young person but as someone who, like me, took a while. I believe in coming out only when you’re ready, but I know I waited too long. Another by-product of ageing: regretting a lack of courage or wisdom that would’ve been unimaginable to your younger self. I wanted to capture that sense of running out of time. I made Jake and Trick brothers, to show no two experiences are ever the same, and while they’re related – there’s a world-weary sister in between who is, frankly, sick of their shit – they’re massively different. Trick is the ‘surprise’ many families produce when they think their nappy-changing days are over, and is a product of his parents’ indulgence. He is what discreet obituarists used to call ‘flamboyant’ and can be loud, opinionated and, at times, shallow. More reserved brother Jake struggled with the burden of being the first child of young, inexperienced working-class parents, and can’t relate to his brother’s exuberance and confidence. To Trick, Jake has the advantage: his masculinity and air of coyness and inexperience make him more desirable. As first-born, Jake’s coming-out has a larger impact on the family; Trick feels robbed of his moment. Jake thinks Trick is lucky; he’s ridden a wave of acceptance, is confident in his own skin. Trick’s youth, attractiveness and close coterie of gay and trans pals are in stark contrast with Jake’s solitude. These scenes often play out between generations, genders and sexualities of the LGBTQ community – we’re a collection of individuals and unity is not automatic.
Instead of embracing what bonds them, the brothers’ mutual envy allows their relationship to be defined by everything it is not – generational conflict 101, basically. If both could look beyond self-obsession to the bigger picture, they’d realise nobody, nowhere is doing as well as you think they are. Well, except tax-evading billionaires, of course, they seem to do fine. Judgements and assumptions cause the brothers to lose focus, too: Trick’s best friend Kia is dealing with her own coming-out as a trans woman, and Jake’s girlfriend Amelia is reeling not just from Jake’s rejection as he searches for his destiny, but their mutual friends’ channeling all their energies into supporting Jake’s journey at her expense.
If this sounds extremely heavy, don’t be fooled – just as in life, there is much lightness and humour. It’s how most of us get through our trickiest situations, and what else can we do in the face of truth other than accept it and laugh? Behind sweeping statements, statistics, and wilful misunderstandings, there are people, each with their own story. The Magnificent Sons is a call to tear up the rulebook, forget everything you thought you knew about the old and the young. Let people show you who they are.
Thanks to Justin for this brilliant piece on something which really needs saying. I hope it reaches a wide audience (and not only because it’s good for my traffic). The novel is already out in ebook and the hardback will be published on 6 August.
IN BRIEF: My View of The Magnificent Sons
Justin Myers brings his signature wit and empathy to this portrait of a larger-than-life family at a crossroads – it’s full of big characters jostling for a moment centre stage (think Rodney in Giri/Haji, if you’ve seen that). It bubbles with humour and many of the staple ingredients of sit-com and rom-com including some great set pieces, but beneath that lies a reflective layer on self- and mutual acceptance. As in his journalism, the author has a flair for tackling issues with emotional intelligence and directness.
I would have read this book regardless but the bisexuality slant is of personal interest to me, particularly as the protagonist of my forthcoming novel Scent is a bi woman. In my opinion The Magnificent Sons realistically conveys the real world incomprehension and stereotypes from all quarters which surround bisexuality: ‘bi-now, gay later’, threesomes, greed/indecisiveness (this could be a long list but you’ve heard it all before). People are often thrown by things they can’t easily get their heads round, as illustrated in the D’Arcy parents’ contrasting attitudes to Tripp being gay and protagonist Jake, who’s been living with his girlfriend, being bisexual. It’s not simple; everyone, whatever their sexual orientation, is an individual; ‘labels’ and visibility are very important to some people and not to others. Fortunately, as every writer knows, complicated is good when it comes to storytelling and this one offers up a winning combination of fun and depth.
This brings the Summer Reads season to a close – do check out the selection (10 great titles) and the other guest posts from Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (The Lizard), Jane Johnson (The Sea Gate) and Amanda Huggins (Scratched Enamel Heart). Many thanks to all of my guests who’ve done an amazing job despite their books being released in uniquely challenging conditions. Unfortunately I’ve run into health issues unrelated to Covid during lockdown and am currently recovering from an operation, so I won’t be doing a second installment of Summer Reads as planned. I’m going to take a nice long break as normal (does the concept still exist?) – hopefully getting out of London at some point. When I resurface in mid-September I’ll do a round-up of the best books I’ve read since the original listing, and will be hosting guest posts from Sarah Leipciger, author of stunning novel Coming Up for Air, and Jude Cook, whose clever, sophisticated novel Jacob’s Advice is out late August. Thanks for supporting the Literary Sofa – these have been tough times for everyone, but I hope the summer holds something positive for you all. See you in September!