Eighteen years ago, when he was 31, Billy Lee Brammer published the novel he had written during long late-night stands on Lyndon B. Johnson's Senate staff. The book was called "The Gay Place"—not a loaded title then—and, except for riches, it brought Brammer all the sweet glories of early literary success…. [Respectful] reviewers proclaimed him the heir to F. Scott Fitzgerald; all the prospects were bright.
One year ago, at the age of 48, Billy Lee Brammer lay dead in Texas, technically the victim of drug abuse, but really undone by the years of frustration that had followed his great success….
[The new edition of "The Gay Place"] appears as a kind of memorial edition—a memorial one is almost afraid to read, for fear that the novel will not be as good as memory has made it, or as kind wishes want it to be.
In fact, "The Gay Place" is even stronger than it seemed at first. With its era (the late 1950's) passed, its author dead, its central figure (Lyndon Johnson) gone from the stage, it still stands as an independent, lasting work of art that may now receive the fame and following it has deserved all along.
To give the book its most obvious due—that it is one of the best political novels—is almost to undersell its merits, because a "political" novel has come to mean one that makes up for the thinness of its characters with the grandness of their job titles and the implausible...
(The entire section is 604 words.)