Richard Amory's legendary novel of a gay Arcadia in the Pacific Northwest captured the hearts and minds, as well as other body parts, of gay readers from its first publication in the 1960s. It is back in a deluxe edition with an extensive preface by Michael Bronski, providing historical and literary context, as well as reprints of interviews with the author that deal with such topics as his difficulties with publishers and his disgust at the liberties taken by the 1970 film version of the novel.
Is "Song of the Loon" worth all the fuss? Although I'd heard a lot about the novel over the years this was my first actual reading. In some ways Amory's work is not much different from a heterosexual romance novel. It is set in a nineteenth-century wilderness that never existed, with stalwart white heroes, and Indians (not Native Americans) who are models of the "noble savage." Everyone is handsome of face, muscular of body and enormous of endowment. The stately, grammatically elaborate fashion in which the characters speak (quite frequently they break into poetry, giving Amory's work an odd kinship with, of all people, Tolkien) further increases the distance from any reality. The frequent sexual encounters are similarly recounted in a strange mix of clinical realism and elaborate metaphor.
Thus, the cynical reader may be tempted to dismiss "Song of the Loon" as a dated period piece. However, this coming-of-age story about Ephraim MacIver, a man fleeing a cruel and manipulative lover, who meets sundry hunky, horny native men on a river journey before finding true love with Cyrus Wheelwright, a trapper, can still exert its unique spell if one accepts it for what it is: a portrait of an entirely closed, Utopian system, in which women, guilt, homophobia and sexually transmitted diseases do not exist (though an unfortunate, probably unconscious racism does--despite his numerous satisfying encounters with various Indians, it is impossible not to notice that MacIver in the end chooses a fellow white man as his partner) . In such a universe these unimpeachably masculine, perpetually cruising men can kiss, speak freely of love and recite poetry to each other, while gravely discussing issues of monogamy and fidelity. The few villains are men who are unwilling to admit their desires for other men, or whose desires are twisted by self-hatred. They are dispatched with ease, converted, not killed--what little violence there is in "Song of the Loon" takes place in hallucinatory visions, not reality. In a present-day America where violence against GLBT citizens and legislated homophobia seem to be on the ascendancy, Amory's vision of a peaceable gay world is extraordinarily moving. I started this book prepared to dismiss it, but ended up falling under the author's spell.
Incidentally, the end of "Loon" leaves Ephraim's and Cyrus' relationship in a somewhat ambiguous state: may readers expect reissues of the two sequels Amory wrote, I hope?