(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Gay Place consists of three novels published under one cover. Each novel has a different cast of characters, but all are united by the appearance of Governor Arthur “Goddam” Fenstemaker (so called because of his frequent use of this oath). All are set in a state capital that is not named but that is clearly Austin, Texas. Although The Gay Place appears to be a political novel, its primary appeal lies in its presentation of the tensions in the private lives of its characters and the impact that Governor Fenstemaker, operating usually behind the scenes, has on all of them.

The animating feature of the first novel, The Flea Circus, is a bribe that a lobbyist offers to George Giffen, a member of the legislature. The lobbyist is actually put up to making the bribe by Alfred Rinemiller, another legislator. Giffen, an honest man, records the bribe offer and tells Governor Fenstemaker about it. Fenstemaker admires Roy Sherwood’s legislative skills and enlists him to uncover the truth about the bribe offer and avoid a scandal. Rinemiller attempts to extricate himself by maintaining that he also had been offered a bribe by the same lobbyist and even gives the story to Willie England, editor of a journal that Rinemiller helps support, so that his version of the scandal will be told first. Using the same kinds of manipulative skills that Fenstemaker admired in the legislature, Sherwood corners Rinemiller and coerces him into leaving town and ending the episode with a minimum of trouble.

In the second novel, Room Enough to Caper, the central character is Senator Neil Christiansen, whom Governor Fenstemaker has appointed to fill the term of a senator who died in office. Fenstemaker wants Christiansen to continue as senator, but Christiansen is unsure about whether he should run for election to a full term. He is concerned not...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Epps, Garrett. “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The Washington Post, February 4, 1979, pp. 1, 4. Notes that the novel provides an important record of the humanity of a pre-Vietnam War era Lyndon Johnson.

Fallows, James. “Success Story.” The New York Times Book Review, January 14, 1979, pp. 7, 30-31. Applauds the reissue of The Gay Place one year after its author’s death and states that it is an outstanding presentation of Lyndon Johnson.

The Gay Place.” Virginia Kirkus’ Service 29, 1 (January 1, 1961): 30. Regards the novel as a series of flashy scenes that ultimately fail and do not hold the attention of the reader.

Klein, Joe. “Politicians: Are They Not Men?” Mother Jones 4, no. 2 (June, 1979): 65-66. In an admiring critique, Klein says that the novel’s strength is its portrayal of Fenstemaker as a mover behind the scenes, powerful yet never really understandable.

Tunstall, Caroline. “Award-Winning First Novel.” Lively Arts and Book Review, March 12, 1961, 34. Suggests that the novel’s main flaw is that Brammer does not properly judge and condemn Fenstemaker’s moral ambiguity.