But is it a ‘gay’ novel?
by Kit van Cleave
Ryan Quinn’s The Fall, a sweet coming-of-age debut novel, is also a gentle coming-out story that takes place on the campus of Florence University in rural Pennsylvania.
A young musician named Haile is escaping from a domineering mother. Haile’s real name is Haven Libby, and she is a child prodigy on violin. While coming into her teens, she played on tour with major orchestras and classical ensembles, resulting in an early offer from Juilliard.
The more successful Haven is, the more her mother involves herself in her daughter’s career. Haven is fleeing from this by renaming herself and disappearing into Pennsylvania to begin her college career. She’s signed up for the Florence music program but doesn’t want to be discovered to be a celebrity.
Tennis star Ian and local football players Casey and Nate all get involved with Haile. Ian and Casey had been best friends and football teammates during high school. But when they reached Florence U., Casey is caught up in the demanding schedule set by Coach Draper. When a chance comes for Ian to room in Casey’s “house,” he looks forward to revitalizing their friendship.
Haile doesn’t want to get close to anyone; she wants to find what kind of music she is really interested in developing. Ian’s major secret is that he’s gay, and he’s concerned not only about moving into a “football house,” where he could be outed and injured, but how to tell Casey about himself.
Various other plot points include the beating death of a student presumed to be gay, a charismatic art history teacher who fascinates everyone, and some supportive relationships between students and coaches, teachers, and advisors.
But there’s nothing meandering or syrupy about Quinn’s writing. A former NCAA champion and All-American, he’s vivid in scenes of struggle on the field, and just as at home describing the athletes’ partying. This is a fully developed novel, entertaining and emotionally moving.
In a recent Huffington Post commentary, Quinn also asks a pertinent question: “Is My Novel Gay?” When he found The Fall at #1 on Amazon’s Gay & Lesbian Fiction bestseller list, it was also #2 on the list of best-selling Sports Fiction books, “sandwiched between none other than John Grisham and a wonderful novel called The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.”
Quinn raises the issue of booksellers labeling novels into certain categories, which he suggests could limit readership and misrepresent the content. Besides, he points out, “Grouping a coming-of-age campus novel . . . with titles whose main premise is lusty homoeroticism is a disservice to readers.”
The Fall is published by Amazon Encore, surely the leading bookseller in the US. Quinn acknowledges his gratitude to the corporation that “discovered, improved, and fought to raise the profile of this book.” As happy as he admittedly was to find his novel on anyone’s best-seller list, “To my diverse, post-DADT, post-gay-marriage generation of writers and readers, a non-straight, non-white character’s non-straightness and non-whiteness is not a headline. It’s just another characteristic that may or may not be pivotal to the story’s plot.”
He’s also uncomfortable about being categorized: “For some reason, to hear that I’m a ‘gay writer’ who writes ‘gay books’ gets under my skin.”
Quinn notes that this is a serious debate, “because thinking about what makes a book Gay Fiction—or Sports Fiction, or African-American fiction—isn’t much different from thinking about what makes you and me who we are. And that is what The Fall is about. It’s about identity. The main characters defy stereotypes.”
In the early 20th century, particularly the 1920s, publishers were not enthusiastic about publishing writers who were not white and male. Blacks, they felt, were not literate enough to form a consumer market, and women were limited to writing about love and romance. Putting writers and their works into strict categories made some sense then, though it delayed and sometimes ended great artists’ work. In today’s high-tech, highly diverse America, such boundaries are rightfully questioned.
The Fall promises more from this young Irish-American writer, and is highly recommended.
Kit van Cleave is a freelance writer living in the Montrose. She has published in local, national, and international media.