"Quatrefoil," a novel by James Barr, tells the story of Phillip Froelich, an ensign in the United States Navy. The novel take place in 1946, just after World War II, mainly in Seattle, San Francisco, and Oklahoma. As the story opens the headstrong young Froelich is facing a court martial for insubordination. Soon his life and fate become entwined with that of Lieutenant Commander Timothy Danelaw, a fellow naval officer; their powerful bond dominates the story. The novel's homosexual theme is introduced early on (page 10) as two characters discuss Oscar Wilde, and specifically Wilde as a homosexual.
The 1991 new edition published by Alyson includes an introduction by Samuel M. Steward and an epilogue by the author. In his intro Steward notes that the book was published in 1950. "Quatrefoil" is a fascinating portrait of a gay male relationship in the 1940s, and the fact that it was first published in 1950 makes the text a sort of historical document itself. AT 373 pages, the book is substantial. The breadth of Barr's novelistic vision gives the book at times a genuine epic feel. The story is not just about the two principal characters, but also encompasses a multigenerational family saga as well as both military and civilian lives, in war and in peace.
While consistently intriguing and well-written, the book is not wholly satisfying. At times I found the dialogue excessively mannered, and often I found the characters and the central relationship to be too enigmatic. Still, there are some really vivid scenes and expertly rendered descriptive passages. The novel is also extremely valuable as a window into a gay men's world that existed long before the Stonewall riots, civil unions, and other societal changes. Overall, a remarkable book that deserves a wide audience.