One literary work that I have read recently which really touched me, but which surprised me, too, is this lively one by an author, Ethan Mordden, whose writings I always have enjoyed, whether fiction or about film, music, or whatever. "How Long Has This Been Going on?" is only one of the many literary and music-oriented works by this multi-talented writer that I have read and savoured, then re-read again and again, in full or in part. Some of Mordden's other fiction is even better than this novel, but I was impressed at how Mordden sustains the epic style of this 590 page "brick" of a book. Mordden's other works of fiction tend to be episodic, essentially amounting to interweaved short stories, but this massive work shows the author's unanticipated skill in creating a work of such panoramic scale.
The book comprises the accounts of a series of fictional characters whose lives eventually (and ingeniously) come seemlessly to intersect, being tales of the lives of gay men and lesbians from 1949 to 1991 and of the American society of those changing times on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. This is really is an huge accomplishment, never flagging in interest or in coherence. The characters are very sympathetic, for all their peculiarities and failings, which Mordden does not flinch from recounting. My favourite two characters are Blue, a kind-hearted, rustic Southern guy (of the variety so often denigrated as "poor white trash"), who also happens to be of irresistible good looks and multi-orgasmic sexual potency, turned loose in New York City (and parts beyond), and Walt, a very cute and lovably quirky musician from the Midwest, whom fate brings together with Blue, then separates, and finally reunites, amidst the adventures of many other fascinating boys, men (some of them those boys grown older), and women.
Some readers have complained of the artificial and overly highbrow dialogue, but, for the most part, I disagree with this caveat. It is, usually, the more intellectual and politically activist personalities who express themselves in this way, in their own cerebrally "naturally unnatural" way of speech, as it were. The more earthier and more direct characters usually express themselves in vocabulary and diction that are natural and quite believable. The variety of the ways in which each converses abets Mordden's strongly individualised portrayals of them. I find it amazing that a writer from the Mid-Atlantic states (the part of the U. S. of A. from which Mordden hails) is able to capture with such authenticity the folkways and speech patterns of the rural, Southern character from the backwoods that Blue so quintessentially is, conveying with such rightness the slang, accent, regional archaisms, word order, and all the rest of Blue's very Dixified way of expressing himself, with utter believability, yet without any sense of artificiality or of literary condescension whatsoever.
Despite the length of the novel, I was sorry when I arrived at the end of this immense piece of fiction. I wanted it to go on and on, to over the years following the 1990s and the later lives and adventures of the intensely interesting people who populate its pages. Perhaps fate already has given Mordden the wisdom and opportunity to write a sequel that is awaiting publication, of the kind that he has produced so often in his delightful "Buddies" series of novels.