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You Can Say You Knew Me When [Hardcover]

K.M. Soehnlein
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 July 2006
THE STUNNING NEW NOVEL FROM THE AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR OF THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS K.M. Soehnlein returns with this exploration of the connection between father and son and the high price of truth. Jamie Garner has been cruising through life. A slacker of sorts, he's been just getting by, living in San Francisco and surrounded by fun-loving friends. Not a bad place to be during the dot-com boom of the 1990s. Then, Jamie's life changes forever and he is catapulted into a search to discover the truth about a man he thought he knew - a man named Teddy. His father. News of his father's death brings Jamie home. There - though Teddy never accepted Jamie - guilt and sadness threaten to overwhelm him. Then a cache of letters from Teddy to his closest friend, Dean Foster, lend new insights into his father's life stretching all the way back to Teddy's beat generation days in San Francisco. So begins Jamie's obsessive journey in search of Dean Foster, a quest that may cost him more than he's willing to venture.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing (1 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0758207980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0758207982
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 16.2 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,279,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"This is a raw and unflinching book." - The New York Times Book Review"

About the Author

K.M. Soehnlein lives in San Francisco. He is the author of bestselling The World of Normal Boys (also available from Turnaround).

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm not that far gone. You can still save me" 2 April 2006
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
K.M. Soehnlein's You Can Say You Knew Me When is an epic, rapturous and complex urban tale, an account of fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends. Thirty-something radio journalist Jamie Garner embarks on a journey back to his childhood home, and in the process discovers the ghosts of his father's perplexing past. Now living an independent life in San Francisco, Jamie reluctantly returns to Greenlawn, New Jersey upon hearing of the death of his father, Teddy Garner. His younger sister Deirdre has begged him to come back for the funeral, but she's upset that Jamie didn't do more to help out with his father's illness.
Over the years, Jamie's relationship with Teddy was fraught with difficulty. The issue of his son's sexual orientation a constant barrier, an image etched in Teddy's mind of Jamie as a teenager, on his knees in front of Eric, his best friend from school, "in the midst of worship, surrender." Teddy's initial reaction was shock, to deny the facts, disapproval and denial in equal measure: "no way is my son this kind of boy."
But Teddy, his mind ravaged from Alzheimer's disease is now dead, and Jamie long since had stopped caring, making peace with their estrangement, " I stopped making my self crazy because my father disapproved of me, and this stopping had unburdened me." Yet Teddy's presence remains stronger than it had been for years, the funeral causing the memories of their life together to flood back to Jamie.
Whilst sorting his father's possessions, he finds a taped-up box marked San Francisco June 60 - June 61, containing letters, photos and a journal, a reminder that Teddy had once lived in Jamie's adopted city.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Asked For It 14 Nov 2005
By Kevin Killian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
KM Soehnlein follows up THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS with an even better book, a novel of mighty formal invention and daring.

He takes a task of great difficulty and makes it seem as easy as a game of cats cradle. He must juggle two separate plots occuring 40 years apart, and make both of them interesting, and interrelate them both, while bringing to life two very different periods of San Francisco history, both of them--from today's viewpoint--almost unimaginable today; true period pieces. In one of them Teddy Garner lived, learned and moved, a young man from the provinces who, drawn to San Francisco by the Beat hubbub of Kerouac and Ginsberg, struggles through a difficult bohemian life there, trying to be a painter, trying to resist the pressure of cold war totalization. How do you stay authentic in any era? Why does one even bother? The other historical period, equally far out of reach, is the San Francisco of just a few years ago during the dot.com boom, when the saying was, if you can't make money out of the Internet, you're an idiot. Teddy's son, Jamie, lives in this world, a contrarian. He's a gay radio producer who, after attending his father's funeral back home in Greenlawn New Jersey, begins to suspect that his father's San Francisco sojourn might have included some bandying with same sex relationships.

Soehnlein is great at taking "stock characters" and removing the stock from them, not merely by the cute Hollywood trick of giving everyone kooky traits, but by showing them in action, watching them with a lover's eye until they reveal themselves.

Soehnlein's also a supremely sexy writer, so good with the body he allows us to follow him anywhere. When Jamie decides to have sex with a withered up old pensioner, whose body seems like it's flying apart in the throes of orgasm, you become aware of the vehemence with which most modern novels avert their eyes from the sex lives of seniors. In a Tenderloin bar Jamie goes down on a homeless man with the deliberate lust and tenderness of a Samuel R. Delany. And finally Jamie's voyage of discovery leads to Jed, the 19 year old beauty who's a drugged up mess, a la Kerouac, half angel, half ruin, and their sex is genuinely arousing, even for a straight boy.

There are a few distractions. You have to swallow one enormous plot point, that tracking down his father's past would exercise Jamie enough to nearly ruin his life to find out more. But this "obsession" is a standard conceit, something we think we all of us have, and Soehnlein almost makes it natural. One late-in-the-story hookup is ponderously improbable, and doesn't gain plausibility even with the author's determination to make it work. On another note, you get the feeling the author has been taught that every sentence has to "be alive" so he lands in some awkward webs of subtitution, such as "I quickly layered clothes over my unwashed skin."

LOL, a Rossellini queen would know that the Bergman-Rossellini affair was cold ashes several years before Dean Foster made it to Italy or even to Hollywood, so that part of the Foster filmography seems, I don't know, misplaced? But next to these tiny cavils so much is of a very high order indeed. Everywhere Soehnlein's invention and creativity wither our misprisions. I love the name of Foster's last film, "The Criminal Kick." It's just, well, right on. (Or "The Who Cares" as a name for a 1960 `mixed bar' in North Beach.) (Or "AJ" as the name for Jamie's 5 year old nephew.) People used to say the devil's in the details, but Soehnlein's details are like pinpricks of starlight in the black velvet vistorama of his novel. Who but he would note the Beckett-like absurdity of two musclemen's chat in a Castro district gym, that has the poetic perfection of the Burma Shave sign: "I'm on chest and tri." "Tomorrow I do legs." "I hate legs." "Yeah, legs kick my ass."

Over and over again YOU CAN SAY YOU KNEW ME WHEN will stop you in your tracks and or challenge you to find within yourself a deeper meaning and a deeper consecration to the life of the soul as well as of the body. It is a worthy successor, not only to such classics of naturalistic fiction as RABBIT REDUX or BULLET PARK, but to the Blakean prophetic of DESOLATION ANGELS or THE SUBTERRANEANS.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh, exciting and different 2 Feb 2006
By Chad Sosna - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This tale of a wandering, undisciplined, but basically good-hearted, gay man is a refreshingly well-written yarn set mostly in San Francisco. Jamie Garner finds his rather aimless life taking a new direction after his father's funeral. He discovers an engrossing set of old letters and photos that places his late father--a stolid, disagreeable man--center stage in the 1950s beatnik era.

While juggling the challenges of his fairly unsuccessful writing/radio producing career, his love of smoking pot, and handling his new boyfriend, Woody, Jamie begins to trace the people and environment of his father's past. The journey works on two levels, uncovering secrets of his father's happier, wilder days, and putting Jamie himself in a position to deal with his own shortcomings in life and to try a new approach to achieving goals.

It's a book that is hard to summarize because the story is compelling, yet the plot springs entirely from the main character. At times Jamie seems helpless and self-deluded, at others, clear-headed and ambitious. He always seems authentic, however.

Jamie is very real, and thankfully breaks out of any stereotype. When I first read a summary of the book--hearing of the themes of San Francisco, boyfriend troubles, not-getting-along-with-father-who-just-died--I feared this book would walk the treadmill that is already so well-worn. But it does not, surprising the reader with a freshness and vibrancy that makes every word worth it.

Karl Soehnlein has clearly established a place for himself among literary, contemporary gay male authors who write about gay themes, such as David Leavitt, Paul Russell Elliott, Peter Cameron, and others, while imbuing his work with a bit more lightheartedness and intrigue. It's not too lofty to say that Karl Soehnlein will one day soon join the authors at the top of that niche, people like Michael Cunningham, Edmund White, and even Christopher Isherwood.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent second novel 16 Sep 2005
By G. Gee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
With his first novel, "The World of Normal Boys," Soehnlein presented us with a riveting coming-out/coming-of-age story, with excruciatingly realistic characters and smooth plot development that drew you in and made you laugh and cry and cheer along with the protagonist. Indeed, I so wanted Jamie of "You Can Say You Knew Me When" to BE Robin from "Normal Boys" I had to stop and remind myself that he wasn't. Soehnlein's characterizations are still well-done, and he delves into more adventurous territory with this sophomore effort. The theme of self-discovery is present again here, with Soehnlein's Jamie Garner searching for answers about his father's mysterious time in 1960's San Francisco. The journey reveals more and more about his father, and ultimately, about himself. Jamie doesn't always like his father, and we, in turn don't always like Jamie. Regardless, Soehnlein weaves a scenario that pulls us along, making us want to find out the answers along with Jamie, even if we question his motives and actions. Soehnlein's characters tug and nag at our own personal characters, helping us understand what compels Jamie to continue his search, even to his detriment. As he did in "Normal Boys," Soehnlein shows us his mastery of creating sexual tension, but in "You Knew Me When" his very adult characters demonstrate the power of both emotional and unemotional sex.

Strong characters, an intriguing storyline and a complex emotional structure make for an excellent read. I hope Soehnlein keeps up the good work.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm not that far gone. You can still save me" 2 April 2006
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
K.M. Soehnlein's You Can Say You Knew Me When is an epic, rapturous and complex urban tale, an account of fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends. Thirty-something radio journalist Jamie Garner embarks on a journey back to his childhood home, and in the process discovers the ghosts of his father's perplexing past. Now living an independent life in San Francisco, Jamie reluctantly returns to Greenlawn, New Jersey upon hearing of the death of his father, Teddy Garner. His younger sister Deirdre has begged him to come back for the funeral, but she's upset that Jamie didn't do more to help out with his father's illness.

Over the years, Jamie's relationship with Teddy was fraught with difficulty. The issue of his son's sexual orientation a constant barrier, an image etched in Teddy's mind of Jamie as a teenager, on his knees in front of Eric, his best friend from school, "in the midst of worship, surrender." Teddy's initial reaction was shock, to deny the facts, disapproval and denial in equal measure: "no way is my son this kind of boy."

But Teddy, his mind ravaged from Alzheimer's disease is now dead, and Jamie long since had stopped caring, making peace with their estrangement, " I stopped making my self crazy because my father disapproved of me, and this stopping had unburdened me." Yet Teddy's presence remains stronger than it had been for years, the funeral causing the memories of their life together flood back to Jamie.

Whilst sorting his father's possessions, he finds a taped-up box marked San Francisco June 60 - June 61, containing letters, photos and a journal, a reminder that Teddy had once lived in Jamie's adopted city. The items providing a window into his father's erotic life, a place of Beatniks, where one worked odd jobs, and had encounters with the legendary Jack Kerouac.

Jamie becomes mesmerized by the photos, one in particular, hinting at an illicit affair, his father pale slimmed and board chested, pulled in close by an impossibly good looking friend, the actor Dean Foster, his eyes and lips "working in tandem to ignite desire" - the prime male friendship of his father's life, covered in secrecy, a forty year silence that Jamie longs to know about.

Upon his return to San Francisco, Jamie is determined to uncover the truth about his father. Teddy gradually becoming a kind of character for him, not a middle-aged father, but someone straight out of Kerouac novel, an erotically charged man from San Francisco's past. Did Jamie's father really have an affair with a man? Teddy was never known to have close relationships with other men and he had undoubtedly failed to find any real connection with his only son.

Like his father before him, Jamie is possessed with a kind of wanderlust; an ineffable yearning which is gradually tearing him apart. He wants to have a monogamous relationship with his venture capitalist boyfriend Woody, but his initial enthusiasm is masked by an inner torment. It starts with a hurried sexual encounter with a man in the rest room of the airport, " a random collision that should mean nothing but alters everything." Then the cruising starts, hooking up with men on the prowl.

Jamie is progressively set adrift, overwhelmed by desire "like a primal ooze, sticky and inescapable as a tar pit," and is caught up in a sexualized chain of men, who carry his desire. Jamie admits that he's been living on the edge; and that he needs to get a grip on his finances, which means smoking less pot, and honing in his erratic behaviour.

But with his friends gradually shifting their loyalties and drawing away from him, and Woody suddenly enforcing a "time-out" from the relationship, Jamie finds himself alone, steadily descending into the sex clubs, and the promiscuity, the deepest, darkest closet of San Francisco. As Jamie yields to desire, his father's voice appears from the page inside his head, "a voice rising up from history, from secrecy and from the dead."

Although Jamie is an adult with his life experience well and truly written on his body, inside, he's still a boy, who puts off responsibility and the big decisions indefinitely. Jamie, in his journey to discover the secrets of his father, realizes that he's not that much different from Teddy. Teddy ended up leading a quiet life of routine in the suburbs of New Jersey, but Jamie sees a glimmer of how his father might have taken a different course, not safely and smoothly into the nuclear family, but deeper into risk.

You Can Say You Knew Men When is a startling evocation of San Francisco in the nineties, where the future is the Internet, the technological revolution turning this arty, sleepy city into a Mecca for the new industrialists. The narrative is seamless and multi-faceted, with Soehnlein transporting his protagonist through two worlds as he searches for a connection, constantly usurped by his own desires, lost in a shadowy world of sex and drugs.

For all his faults, Jamie is a sympathetic, talented, but often sad character as he navigates the perfidious territory of his father's past. This young man must undoubtedly make peace with the ghost of his father before he can continue to live an honest and better life. Mike Leonard April 06.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like Father, Like Son Or You Can't Go Home Again 8 Oct 2005
By H. F. Corbin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
K. M. Soehnlein begins this his second novel with the narrator Jamie Garner returning from San Francisco to his boyhood home of Greenlawn, New Jersey for the funeral of his father with whom he has not spoken nor visited for the past few years. It all had to do with his father's never having accepted his being gay. While on that visit Jamie, as he is going through the attic, discovers some old letters and photos that belonged to his father before he married Jamie's mother years ago. The rest of this hefty novel of over 400 pages is mostly about the narrator's quest to find out what happened in his father's life so long ago in California and to make some sort of sense of it all--as well as his sorting out his relationship with his lover Woody.

There are many things to admire about YOU CAN SAY YOU KNEW ME WHEN. Mr. Soehnlein has written a most ambitious and dense novel with serious themes: the search for one's father, the importance of friendships, the difficulty of getting a relationship right. He writes with tremendous perception and at times turns phrases beautifully, getting the period and locales just right. In the 50's and 60's women had their hair done in "beauty parlors." Now people broadcast their "personal life for all to hear" on cell phones in public places. The death of one family member-- or the death of anyone we care about for that matter-- brings back the remembrance of the death of someone else all over again. When Teddy meets for the first time Ray Gladwell, an artist with whom his father had had a brief affair with in 1960, she looks to see if he resembles his late father, a beautiful human touch by Soehnlein. When Jamie is attracted to a FedEx employee, he describes what could quickly take place between the two of them as happening in a "flirt-friendly environment." Additionally the minor characters are fleshed out and for the most part endearing: Jamie's cousin Tommy and Anton, his marijuana supplier, just to name two. Mr. Soehnlein obviously loves San Francisco and it shows. He could convince anyone who hasn't been there to visit. The first section of the book entitled "The Son" is so well-written that it could stand alone as a short story. The family dynamics are just perfect.

The novel, however, is about 50 pages too long. After my delight in reading the first 45 or so pages, I got bogged down and found the last half of the book heavy sledding-- to mix my metaphors. The problem: Jamie is totally believable but not very likeable. He is self-centered with a large streak of self-pity and not big of self-awareness. One friend after another points out to him that he is essentially like his father.

Mr. Soehnlein is still a very fine writer and a cut above most of the current authors of gay novels. I would probably like this novel much better if I had not read and liked tremendously his first one, THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS.
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