Stalked: An Anatomy of Sexual
by Larry Townsend
Reviewed by Ian Young
ow that sadomasochistic imagery has become
fashionable, it may be hard to imagine a time when S/M activity was the most
taboo aspect of a hidden gay subculture.
Gay S/M first began to emerge from the social shadows after the Second
World War. Many veterans had left America as naive boys - and returned as
experienced young men. And some of them found they didn't fit into the uptight
society of postwar America. Many joined motorcycle clubs, prowling for heavy
action of one sort or another in out-of-the-way places. They were On the Road
on their bikes long before Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty traversed the country
by car. Perhaps some of them remembered fondly those sessions with the old
Sarge. The law of supply and demand soon provided the first leather bars.
For a while, S/M remained a secret activity, under heavy social
sanction. In the late 1940's, the great sexologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey took a
strong interest in it, filming S/M sessions and interviewing the participants.
But the "leather" world remained even deeper underground than the rest of the
gay society until the early Seventies. In the Fifties and Sixties, leathermen
maintained fairly rigid codes of dress and behavior, which William Carney
stylized almost to the point of parody in his classic Sixties novel The
Real Thing. These accepted signals and folkways helped to screen out
psychopaths and other criminals, but also made life in the leather world as
constricting as it was in the rest of American society. In those days, if a guy
known as an S, a Top, felt like playing bottom for a while, he felt obliged to
flee to another city for a weekend so as not to be discovered!
Then came Stonewall, the last hurrah of the disruptive Sixties, and in
its wake gay life changed forever. There were those who realized that if gay
shame could become gay pride ("shame" was once a code word for homosexual; now
"pride" has taken its place), the S/M world could stand some airing out too. A
little group in New York City formed the Eulenspiegel Society, the first S/M
liberation organization, open to straights, gays and bisexuals alike.
By 1972, a paperback porn house published the first exploration of the
gay leather scene by an insider, Larry Townsend's The Leatherman's
Handbook. Since then, the Handbook has been through various
editions, and Larry Townsend has become the best known author of gay S/M
adventure and erotica, rivaled only by the late John Preston. Stalked
is his thirty-ninth novel.
By now, Townsend has built up a loyal readership - and a formula to
satisfy it, based on the conventions of porn fiction. There is a gay, usually
S/M, sex scene in almost every chapter, and the plot and characters, are merely
serviceable vehicles for the required erotica. While Townsend lacks the spark
and style of his illustrious precursor Samuel Steward (a.k.a. Phil Andros), he
has nonetheless been one of the best porn writers around for several decades.
But there are aspects of his latest book that made it difficult for me to
The story is about Ryan Franklin, a young Hollywood actor who gets
stalked by a murderous, sexually confused drifter called Glenn Leach. When
Glenn slouches into Ryan's pampered Hollywood world, things soon get very ugly.
And there's a lot of ugly in this novel.
Here, as in a number of Townsend's books, erotic S/M periodically gives
way to gloating renderings of brutal, decidedly non-consensual, sexual
violence. The characters - selfish, jaded, amoral and sexually driven - are
unappealing, and only the most unappetizing aspects of their Hollywood milieu
are reflected. A more gifted writer might provide all this with some flavour,
but Townsend's humorless, meat-and-potatoes prose is not up to the task.
Stalked is a story very much about macho guys. The only
important character who isn't one is Ryan Franklin's manservant Eddie Phillips.
Eddie is an older, effeminate man. Throughout the book, he is repeatedly
referred to (by various other characters and by the author) as "Cunt," "Sissy,"
"the wispy queen," "Ms. Eddie," "that old fag secretary," "the old faggot," and
so on - so often that it becomes a kind of sneering refrain, an intrusive
literary tic. The author seems to have such loathing for his most inoffensive
character that by the time Eddie is beaten to death, literary fag-bashing seems
The Leatherman's Handbook and its sequels were important books
in their day. But Townsend's recent fiction has become increasingly rancid.
Perhaps his dislike of effeminate men is the other side of the coin to his love
of brutality. As for his view of Hollywood, no doubt there are good reasons for
his cynicism. But cynical writing about cynical people makes tiresome reading
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