Book Reviews

Life Drawing by Michael Grumley at ReQueered Tales

Genre Gay / Historical / 20th Century / Drama / Fiction
Reviewed by ParisDude on 23-June-2022

Book Blurb

On a barge floating down the Mississippi, he falls in love with James, a black card player from New Orleans, and in time the two of them settle, bristling with sexual intensity, in the French Quarter - until a brief affair destroys James's trust and sends Mickey to the drugs and sordid life of Los Angeles.

Originally published in 1991, it was Grumley’s only novel, completed in the months leading to his death from AIDS as he was cared for by his lover Robert Ferro. This new edition contains the original foreword by Edmund White (
A Saint from Texas) and afterword by George Stambolian (Gay Men’s Anthologies Men on Men), close friends of the couple.

Book Review

Mickey is your average, cute little boy, growing up in the 50s in Lilienthal, in the US Midwest not far from the Mississippi, with his dad, mom, and older brother. Nothing seems amiss, out of place, odd or different; his happy boyhood and teenage memories could be those of any kid of his age, upbringing, and geographical origin if it weren’t for the fact that they were genuinely his alone. When he turns seventeen, he has a sort of first epiphany: he has sex with a slightly older boy, and that event makes him feel bolder, more alive, more empowered, as if he had at last been let in on an essential secret: “This body I had, this thing that had been lacking its own authority for so long, had suddenly come together, and hardened to a purpose I recognized as natural and just, no matter how outlandish it might seem to others. The secretness of it was part of it – I had never, as far as I could remember, been admonished against making love to a man. The subject hadn’t come up.”


Then, in the last year of high school, one night he up and runs away. He wants to go to New Orleans. By chance, he stumbles upon an old acquaintance who works on a boat and who agrees to smuggle him downriver. On board, Mickey meets his acquaintance’s cocky and handsome son James. The second epiphany strikes: he falls in love with James, and as he seems to be a very lucky boy, that deep, churning feeling is reciprocated. The two young men find a dwelling in New Orleans, where they openly live together, doing the odd job to earn their living. And then, one day, Micky allows himself to be seduced by another man, a mere chance encounter, and when he confesses this, James walks out on him. Heartbroken, Mickey heads west to California, where other adventures, insights, epiphanies await him…


I seem to have signed a subscription for work by Violet Quill writers—lucky me (recently I’ve read and reviewed novels by Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran, and this author’s longtime lover Robert Ferro)! Once again this book, a hidden, forgotten gem, has been rereleased by the excellent ReQueered Tales team, and I cannot thank them enough. Because this was one helluva great read (Grumley’s only novel, it was released shortly after his untimely death). Grumley’s prose is crystal-clear, evocative, sensual, creating atmospheres and invoking emotions on each page. The whole childhood part is soaked with the low-humming nostalgia of a paradise lost forever whereas the other parts of the book astonish with the naïve, heartfelt innoncence of first discoveries. I vibrated with each turn and twist, and I loved the whole experience as it made me forget I was reading a story—I felt as if I were living it!


The book is more a coming-of-age than a coming-out novel, which is in itself rather surprising. The setting in time and space made me surmise I would be getting the difficulties and hardships of a young man coming to terms and accepting his homosexuality, but that was not the central theme. As it were, the narrator discovers who he is, sexually and emotionally speaking, almost with a shrug. The focus lay on what came after that. How to fall in love, whom to love, how to love, and most importantly, how to understand what one is feeling—all the things most of us go through at that age, by the way. Often we also experience the same results, namely confusion, broken hearts, resilience, gain of self-knowledge.


A powerful story, which swept me up without drama, almost as if Grumley had walked in on me on tiptoes, taken me softly by the hand, and led me down his narrative path. An amazing book, one I won’t forget and whill certainly reread many times. Joins my classical gay writing pantheon, joining novels such as ‘Like People in History’ or ‘Dancer from the Dance.’ Both books by Violet Quill writers, by the way.




DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been purchased by the reviewer.


Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 193 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 15-March-2022
Price $5.95 ebook, $16.95 paperback, $18.95 hardcover
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