Tom Spanbauer’s literary career seems back to front. The natural sequence for a gay writer from the baby-boomer generation, you’d imagine, is a thinly disguised autobiography, followed by an Aids novel, then an exploration of homosexual history. Yet he started with the period piece and has only now, sixteen years later and aged sixty, got round to producing a work that has the air of a fictionalised misery memoir. His second novel, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (1991), which made his name in his forties, was a late outgrowth of the 60s/70s trend for portraying the American past as much more like the turbulent, raunchy present than you’d guess from sanitised conventional accounts of, say, the frontier era, or the literature of the relevant period. The film of Little Big Man, for example, implied a parallel between nineteenth-century Indian wars and Vietnam; while McCabe and Mrs Miller, also adapted from a novel, showed a turn of the century mining-town brothel as not unlike a multicultural commune.
Fiction that was part of this movement made marginalised figures its heroes and heroines: Indians, blacks, gays, hookers, outlaws, proto-feminists, dissidents, dwarfs, hallucinatory drug-takers, outrageous artists or performers, and so on. By 1991, every individual option had long ago been snapped up; where Spanbauer scored was in perming several. Shed,