Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513
In many ways Monette’s autobiography is as much a gay morality tale—an illustration of the horrors and self-debasements of the closeted life and the need to abandon them for the freely integrated existence that coming out makes possible—as it is narrative of his particular life story. As he recounts his journey from darkness to light, from furtive acts of self-loathing to public acts of self-assertion, he regularly interrupts the chronology in the voice of the angry and passionate forty-seven-year old HIV-positive gay man that he is, urging young gays and lesbians to renounce the stultifying exile of their self-denial and embrace the liberating truth of their sexual identities. It is clear he desires to leave the next generation of his “tribe” a map of his quest for love, affirmation, and justice which will make their own journey less dire.
Monette traces this growth toward self-discovery from his solitary childhood in a puritanical working-class Boston suburb to his student years in the homophobic halls of prestigious Phillips Academy and Yale College during the 1950’s and 1960’s, through his confused early career as teacher, poet, and decorator in the 1970’s. In all this he shows himself an acute observer and recorder of the physical and emotional pain visited on a ten-year old who is too effeminate, a fifteen-year old not keen enough on sports, a twenty-year old hopelessly in love with his straight college roommate. To deal with the hurt and humiliation Monette becomes a ventriloquist, struggling to make the right sounds, contorting himself into the appropriate postures, but knowing himself a fraud and feeling utterly unsatisfied merely to sham the masculinity he both fears and desires in other men.
A safe, courtly escort to women, a voluble, witty adjunct to men, Monette in a way fits in everywhere but feels at home nowhere, and so must invent himself again and again, a chameleon trying to be “normal.” Yet through all the frustrations of therapy, of willed sex with women or desperate couplings with other closeted men, he maintains one fantasy image of intimacy: “two men in love and laughing.” Happily, he finds it when, sick of the paralyzing loneliness the closet demands, he steps into the light and into the laughing embrace of Roger Hurwitz, the lover whose death Monette so movingly chronicled in BORROWED TIME: AN AIDS MEMOIR (1988).
Both a clear-eyed anatomy of the closet and a harrowing brief on growing up male in America, BECOMING A MAN charts s course for overcoming repressive forces within the individual and the culture.
Advocate. June 2, 1992, p. 34.
Booklist. LXXXVIII, May 1, 1992, p. 1568.
Kirkus Reviews. LX, May 1, 1992, p. 594.
Lambda Book Report. III, September, 1992, p. 20.
Library Journal. CXVII, May 1, 1992, p. 92.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. June 28, 1992, p. 10.
Martin, Wendy. Review of Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, by Paul Monette. The New York Times Book Review, July 26, 1992, 5.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, July 26, 1992, p. 5.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX , April 20, 1992, p. 44.
San Francisco Chronicle. July 12, 1992, p. REV8.
See, Lisa. “Paul Monette.” Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1992, 42-43.
The Washington Post Book World. XXII, June 21, 1992, p. 1.