Book Reviews

Like People In History by Felice Picano at ReQueered Tales

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Historical / 20th Century / Fiction
Reviewed by ParisDude on 20-February-2020

Book Blurb

Solid, cautious Roger Sansarc and flamboyant, mercurial Alistair Dodge are second cousins who become lifelong friends when they first meet as nine-year-old boys in 1954. Their lives constantly intersect at crucial moments in their personal histories as each discovers his own unique — and uniquely gay — identity. Their complex, tumultuous, and madcap relationship endures against 40 years of history and their involvement with the handsome model, poet, and decorated Vietnam vet Matt Loguidice, whom they both love. Picano chronicles and celebrates gay life and subculture over the last half of the twentieth century: from the legendary 1969 gathering at Woodstock to the legendary parties at Fire Island Pines in the 1970s, from Malibu Beach in its palmiest surfer days to San Francisco during its gayest era, from the cities and jungles of South Vietnam during the war to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and Upper East Side during the 1990s AIDS war.

In a book that could have been written only by one who lived it and survived to tell, Picano weaves a powerful saga of four decades in the lives of two men and their lovers, relatives, friends, and enemies. Tragic, comic, sexy, and romantic, filled with varied and colorful characters, Like People in History is both extraordinarily moving and supremely entertaining.

Publisher's Note: First published to acclaim in 1995, winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award for Best Novel, Gay Times Best Novel of the Year and Finalist for Lambda Literary Award Best Gay Fiction, this 25th Anniversary edition for 2020 features a new foreword by Richard “Bugs” Burnett and an afterword by the author.

Book Review

My personal library holds several iconic gay books I put there not because they are classics such as E.M. Forster’s ‘Maurice’ (which I happen to like a lot, too), but because they were the first gay books I read. A good friend of mine recommended them after I had finally come out, and as only good friends can do, he guessed my tastes correctly – I loved them and still do. I remember my first ever gay novel was David Leavitt’s ‘The Lost Language of Cranes’, soon followed by Armistead Maupin’s marvelous ‘Tales of the City’ series, Andrew Holleran’s ‘Dancer from the Dance’, Edmund White’s ‘A Boy’s Own Story’, and… this book. Not recommended; I think I picked it up during a trip to London – probably the year it was first published –, read it, and immediately loved it. I must have re-read it a good dozen times ever since and have recommended it to anyone looking for a good book to read, including the French version, of which I was lucky enough to find a second-hand copy I offered my Significant Other for Christmas. When I say I was lucky, I mean it literally – the French book is out of print, after all, and the same seems to be true for the original version. A huge thanks therefore to ReQueered Tales, who are doing such a wonderful job republishing gay classics from the eighties and nineties and who provided me the ARC, which I read now for the thirteenth time. Did I love it? Yessir. Was I swept up once again by the easy flow of the story? Yessir. Did I dislike Alistair, did I fall in love with Matt? Yessir. Did I chuckle, did I laugh? Yessir. Did I cry hot tears of sadness? Yessir. After thirteen reads, ‘Like People In History’ still succeeds in triggering all these emotional reactions, it’s so good. Not perfect, just… really good.


What’s the story? Roger Sansarc, fifty-something first-person narrator, starts by telling the framing narrative, which is set in the early nineties in New York. He and his current lover, young, political-minded, and handsome Wally, are invited to celebrate the birthday of Roger’s cousin, rich and ritzy Alistair Stodge, to whom Roger has been linked by some kind of strange hate-love since they were nine years old. It is plain that this will be Alistair’s last birthday. He has AIDS and is slowly but surely dying. For that reason he has asked his cousin to provide him with sleeping pills that will allow him to party one last time and then leave this world in what he deems a worthy fashion. Against Wally’s advice, almost despite himself, Roger agrees. After the party, he and Wally are supposed to rally a huge demo organized by ActUp in front of the mayor’s official lodgings in Gracie Mansion to protest against the insufficient funding of AIDS-relief and AIDS-related research. During the demo, a misunderstanding leads to a quarrel between the lovers, and to prove his love to Wally, Roger helps other activists to unfurl a huge banner from the roof of Gracie Mansion. He is arrested, bailed out by a longtime friend and lawyer, and picked up by Wally. Now Roger wants to get back to his cousin’s flat as fast as possible in order to prevent Alistair from swallowing the sleeping pills. I cannot give away the ending of that plot string because it would spoil the whole book, but it’s a real page-turner.


Just as important as this framework are the six long flashbacks to both Roger’s and Alistair’s younger years. The earliest story dates back to the fifties when the cousins first met, the last memory to their last reconciliation some six years prior to the frame-story. And all of the US history, most importantly the US history of gays, gay liberation, gay rights, gay partying, and gay mass-dying, is thus aptly recounted, just as the blurb promises (check it out for more details) – this is, for once, a blurb that doesn’t promise too much. The deed is subtly done. In the foreground are always Roger and Alistair and their on-and-off relationship. Because yes, they split up more than once, partly because of Alistair’s seemingly absent morals and high-flying ambitions, partly because each time, Roger bears with him until finding the necessary force to kick him out of his life.


I admit, the first times I read this novel, I really hated Alistair, almost with a passion. He was everything I despised: haughty, full of himself, sure of his importance, ambitious, ready to kill mother and father in order to get what he wanted. Roger on the other hand was sweet, somewhat meek, naïve, loving and caring, but like good Bordeaux wine getting better as years went by. For the record, I stumbled upon some negative reviews focussing principally on these two main characters, described as unlikeable, unlikely, unengageable, who apparently made it impossible for anyone in their right minds to like the book. Well, I beg to differ. To start with, I not only could engage with the characters, but even enpathized, nay identified at several points with Roger (meek, clueless, aimless, procrastinating me, yes). Secondly: all right, and true enough, I can’t say I find either Alistair or Roger through-and-through positive role models or heroes. Both have their weaknesses, their shortcomings, their blind spots. More than once, I found myself protesting and wanting to personally enter the plot to shake one or the other to their senses. But since when do novels necessarily need likeable characters? Books can “work” perfectly well with negative characters if those are sufficiently fleshed out, believable, lively. The more I reread the book, the more I realized I didn’t really hate any of the characters. Once they had “lived their part” in the book, they became more than redeemed in my eyes (not that their redemption would be this novel’s ultimate goal). Thirdly, I found both Alistair and Roger very real, very plausible. Not black and white, not even Alistair, but painted in a thousand different shades, with lots of shadow hues and lighted parts. The über-ambitious Alistair, always chasing some far-away dream of grandeur and eminence and richness, but never quite getting there. He’s well off, he has the ritziest friends one can imagine, he is influential, but is he happy? Has he ever vanquished his overwhelming envy of his cousin’s achievements? And Roger, a bit clueless as to what he wants, a bit aimless, and yet progressing slowly and in circles, from success to defeat to success to defeat, each new circle seemingly bringing him to a level higher than the one before (I’m talking about levels of contentment, levels of comprehension, that is) – does he find what he wants?


These two guys more often than not stroke me as the symbol of two character aspects that one could easily imagine living and struggling side by side in one person (Goethe’s Doctor Faustus would have said, “Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach, in meiner Brust…”). Caught between them, soul-rendingly handsome and tragic hero of classical Greek dimensions, is Matt Loguidice, marine vet, poet, lost soul, catalyst and chatharsis for Alistair and Roger. The love story between him and Roger is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, most sad ones I’ve ever encountered. This was the character I fell in love with myself – the epitome of the perfect lover if only one finds the place in oneself that opens up to true, pure love, no questions asked. Both Roger and Alistair get there eventually, when it seems almost too late. Matt was the reason I wept the first time I read this book; Matt was the reason I wept twelve more times, at each new reread.


What is it that makes me get so emotional each time I read ‘Like People In History’? What is it that makes me say this is an important book, a book that should be in the curriculum of literature classes, a must-read for gays? Many things. It is well-written, that is for sure. Felice Picano shows his ability to create characters with depth, the story is well-paced, the ending perfect. Witty dialogues, interesting subplots and side-stories; even the secondary characters sufficiently sketched to look like real persons (which some of them were, I gather). But the main thing for me is: what is told in this book is somehow part of my DNA, part of my story, just as important as the whole line of Austrian emperors, both World Wars, my grandfathers’ fights for social rights, my parents meeting and marrying, etc. I’m gay; therefore, I feel this primal urge to know the history of my LGBTQ brethren and sisters, especially those important fights leading to me being what I am today: a gay man in his late forties who is able to openly live with and love his Significant Other without hiding that fact. ‘Like People In History’ gives me an insight into that period where the fights were fought and into the generation who fought them. The book doesn’t do it like a history book would do, however; it doesn’t tell, it shows. And by showing so aptly, it plays with my emotions in ways few other books are able to do.


To sum up this long review: everyone knows the famous question, “What book would you like to have with you if you were stranded on a lonely island?” My answer, and there is no doubt about it: this one.





DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by ReQueered Tales for the purpose of a review.


Additional Information

Format ebook
Length Novel, 626 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 28-January-2020
Price $4.95 ebook
Buy Link