Growing up in the 60s and 70s, Stan Grozniak was constantly creating. He often paired up with his older brother to make films, which they screened for the neighborhood kids at a nickel a pop. As a high school student, Stan gets into the local theatre scene where he finds a passion not only for the art form, but the attractive college students who comprise the cast and crew. Stan even has a bona fide first love interest named Lance Holtzer, though Stan is convinced Lance is merely indulging Stan’s youthful puppy love by being nice to him. Nevertheless, in Brookside, Ohio, Stan manages to find a place to be…even if, at the time, he doesn’t consider himself much more than an awkward gay kid in a small town.
The early interest in film and theater connections, however, do allow Stan to build a career in film. He isn’t making blockbusters, but he is having fun and making pictures that resonate with their intended audience. The work also brings many fabulous people into his life, including actor Gerard Kulozik, with whom Stan shares an intense and deep love affair. In a roundabout way, all these connections bring one Lance Holtzer back into Stan’s orbit…and it is so Lance can star in a film where Stan and his friend (and sometimes lover) Barry can explore their own experiences with incest. Stan relishes the chance to orchestrate a reunion with his teenage crush, but he also discovers Lance might be more attainable than he ever imagined.
Finding Tulsa is a fantastic first-person narrative told from Stan Grozniak’s perspective. I chose this book as my selection for the New-to-Me Author Week for Reading Challenge Month and I was not disappointed. It reads like a long letter, or maybe a director’s commentary track laid over a finished film. Personally, I very much enjoyed the pacing of the story and the non-linear qualities. I think mixing newer and older episodes with contemporary events in Stan’s life helped keep things interesting. That said, I’ll admit I did find it a bit of a challenge to know when “now” is for Stan. I would hazard a guess that it’s sometime in the 90s. For readers familiar with 60/70/80s, there is a lot to get nostalgic over and thread of sadness from reading about some of the friends Stan loses to a disease that, today, can be very manageable with treatment.
While I would struggle to identify major “plot points” that culminate in a big climax, I think it’s fair to say Finding Tulsa does have at least two major events that generally shape and support the story. The first is Stan’s experience of incest (so note the content warning). To be perfectly clear, Stan describes the event on page and talks about it in retrospect with several supporting characters, from his brother, to his friend Barry, to the relative in question. A handful of supporting characters also mentioned other incestuous experiences. I do like that I am challenged, as a reader, to grapple with Stan and his very lived-experience of viewing the incest as something he wanted. Stan adamantly did not consider himself preyed upon, groomed, or attacked by an older relative. I think what strikes me about Provenzano’s treatment of the topic is that, for Stan, incest is not automatically framed as The Thing That Fucks You Up Forever And Ever…but it still has an impact on your life.
The other major event revolves around Lance. High school-aged Stan met college-aged Lance while they were both active in community theater. Stan then reconnects with Lance by complete accident when he is casting a new film—one based on Stan’s friend Barry’s experience of incest, but which Stan reshapes to more closely resemble his own experience. This pairing is much more of a slow burn situation. I don’t think we even hear about Lance until a third or halfway through the book, but when the scenes between Stan and Lance include a reference to a stage character named Tulsa, I immediately paid attention to Lance. Funny that he doesn’t pop again until much later in the story. At this juncture, it was still not clear, at least it wasn’t to me, if Lance was attracted to men at all. The closer to the end we get, the more I could appreciate the romance that slowly develops between Stan and Lance. At the same time, I think the book really does focus on Stan’s story, so there is not a relentless spotlight on the two as a couple. I did like that the depiction of Stan’s social world feels more organic because of this non-focus on Falling In Love. Before Stan and Lance are official, and even after they have A Big Talk/Declaration of Love, it’s clear that they are/would be open to other partners. Stan’s work in film has and does include some sexwork (and a big chunk of the book is dedicated to describing Stan’s experiences making a bona fide porn film…so there’s that), but it’s all just part of Stan as a character.
Mostly, I think Finding Tulsa is a smashing exploration of what it would be like to be a gay film director of some renown living his best life. I loved that Stan is from the midwest, but carves out a life for himself in LA. I loved how he has close relationships with multiple people and that, sometimes, those friendships include benefits. I liked how I could see Stan as a sex-positive person and will forever admire the way he and his brother have a (figuratively) close relationship, despite his brother catching Stan experimenting with a carrot (!) or knowing that Stan and their uncle had sex. Mostly, I loved how recognizably messy Stan is, yet still makes his life work—which, for Stan, includes finding love with his unrequited high school crush and making a living through film.
I think this book is an excellent read for anyone who is interested in complex, first-person narratives. Readers who enjoy non-linear stories or explorations of topics society deems taboo would enjoy this book, also. There’s a strong sense of nostalgia for readers who were born/alive when car phones were a thing and the bittersweet awareness that AIDS used to be a death sentence.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for New-to-Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of FIVE $20 JMS Books bookstore gift cards (you can see the full event prize list here)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on New-to-Me Author Week here.