Speakeasy by Suzey Ingold (February 18, 2016); 256 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.
There’s something brilliant about telling the story of two men in love in America in the early 20C and setting it in a speakeasy during Prohibition. We Americans look back on Prohibition and shake our heads—it seems a completely stupid time, and the laws against alcohol only increased the violence done in the name of alcohol and its repression. So, it seems kind of natural to set a story of love between two men in that scene: stupid and senseless repression that only increases violence done in its name? As I said, it’s a brilliant, fitting setting for this love story.
The story itself is of Art (who runs a speakeasy for gay men in the basement of a barbershop) and Heath (from a Good Family, graduate of Yale, Going Places If He Plays His Cards Right). Heath is introduced to the speakeasy by a friend, and soon after meets Art, and the two begin a courtship that must be hidden from society, including Heath’s family (who expect him to marry a woman of their own social circle). In one scene, Heath and Art climb the stairs from the speakeasy and must stop holding hands before they get to the street. It’s a poignant moment for any of us who’ve stopped holding hands with a beloved because the atmosphere seemed too dangerous for it, but it highlights for all readers the ways that secrecy is used, ironically, to preserve freedom in this novel (and all the ways that fails, too).
Beyond the intelligence of the setting here, the two plotlines (the love story and the story of the speakeasy itself) weave together and apart and serve to amplify each other (what a great example of novel with great rhythm). Both the life of the speakeasy and the life of the relationship depend upon disobedience, secrecy and passion, in equal measures.
Aside from what happens, I can also say that how the story unfolds is really great, through narration that feels natural and real (and perfectly-paced) and lets the reader get to the story without getting in the way.
Reading novels electronically means that I don’t always see the end nearing—sometimes you can feel it coming, but you have no dwindling unread pages to remind you. Though the ending was natural and thoroughly earned, I was unhappily surprised when this book was over, if only because that meant the story and the world were no longer mine to spy upon.