Rating: 4.75 stars
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Theodore McCall spends his days working at the local general store before heading home to live with his parents in rural Pennsylvania. When his best friend and lover, Martin Fuller, returns home for Christmas, he tells Theodore of the wonders of New York City and how there are people just like them there. Theodore’s life is turned upside down on New Year’s Eve in 1902 when he realizes that there isn’t a place for him in his rural town, and he ventures to New York City where there is the potential of a job.
Arriving in New York City, Theodore has to adjust to the hustle and bustle of urban living and realizes that the Martin he knew and loved is quite different here in the city. Settling into his new world, Theodore allows Martin to talk him into spending a night at the Ariston Baths…and both their lives are drastically changed.
Haunted by his experiences in New York, Theodore returns home a broken man. As he begins to rebuild his life, he meets Jasper Webb. If Theodore wants to find the happiness he craves, he must boldly risk everything.
This was one of those historical novels that hooked me right from the beginning. The story starts off in June 1969, the day after the Stonewall Inn Riots. Theodore and Jasper, both in their 90s, hear of the news and are thrilled that “their people” have done what Theodore wished had happened 66 years earlier during the first recorded raid on a homosexual establishment at the Ariston Baths in New York City.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ariston Baths, this book does a tremendous job of recounting the events that happened on that fateful day. Homosexuality was a crime and the punishments were harsh for those who were found to be guilty of lewd behavior. Readers get a glimpse of what it was like for those who were there on the night the police raided the baths, the court process these individuals went through, and their punishment.
This story is told through Theodore’s POV. This is not a romance story (though the scenes at the beginning and end of this book are probably some of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever read) as we do not meet Jasper until nearly ¾ of the way through the story. Instead, this is a work of historical fiction about how one event drastically changed the life of Theodore and his friend Jasper.
Theodore is a country boy whose been raised with manners and strong work ethic. A homosexual man, he is so content in his life in his small, rural hometown that he doesn’t feel the need for anything more in his life…until his former lover and best friend arrive and piques his interest in having it all. Except that when Theodore finally gets to New York City, he realizes that it is like being in a different world – a far more dangerous one than he is used to.
Martin was a former country boy whose experiences in the city have changed him. Finally able to explore his sexuality, he’s gone from one extreme to the other. When we first meet Martin, he’s still a country boy at heart. Then when we see him in NYC, we realize that he isn’t the same boy anymore. He’s more reckless. Yet, when we read about what happens to him, it was heartbreaking.
Overall, I loved this story. If you are a history buff – you are going to love this story. It is well researched and the author provides plenty of references for those who are interested in learning more about the events depicted. I highly recommend.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.
A Night at the Ariston Baths sounds fascinating. Thanks for the review, Wendy.