Fire Island: Love, Loss and Liberation in an American Paradise by Jack Parlett - review by William Kuhn

William Kuhn

Sun, Sand and Speedos

Fire Island: Love, Loss and Liberation in an American Paradise


Granta Books 272pp £16.99

Some of the greatest gay romances have begun on the beach. Lord Byron met a boy on the beach at Brighton. He later paid the boy’s fees at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, which suggests they went for more than a swim. Von Eschenbach first saw Tadzio while staying on the Lido at Venice. Tennessee Williams bummed a cigarette off Frank Merlo at a beach bar in Provincetown. Christopher Isherwood met Don Bachardy via Bachardy’s brother, whom he had encountered on Santa Monica beach. The early stages of W H Auden’s relationship with Chester Kallman unfolded on Fire Island, a thin barrier island off the southern coast of Long Island in New York.

Jack Parlett is the author of a literary study of gay cruising and a volume of poetry. He has now written a history of Fire Island, a narrow, thirty-mile-long stretch of sand famous for its two gay resorts, Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. There are no cars during the tourist season. Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines are connected by boardwalks and separated by a wooded area popular for night-time meet-ups known as the Meat Rack.

Parlett’s book is centred on the writers who came to Fire Island, including Patricia Highsmith, Carson McCullers, Frank O’Hara, James Baldwin, Andrew Holleran and Larry Kramer. It is both a reliable handbook to gay literature and a compressed guide to American gay history over the past hundred years. Parlett

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