Cruising Paperback – 1 May 1980
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A killer is stalking late 1960s New York; his prey, gay men. To catch him, decoy cops are deployed around the city. The book is written from the perspectives of three people; the killer, the decoy cop, and the decoy cop's boss.
Reflecting the prevailing attitudes of the time perhaps, there is a considerable amount of homophobia and racism in this book, and it is admittedly unclear whether this is off-hand and possibly offensive, or meant to discredit the characters and darken the tone. It's tempting to give the author the benefit of the doubt and suggest that the latter is the case. This is a novel after all, and not every fictional character must be politically correct, surely? Further, the reader is hardly likely to credit any of the characters with much insight, given how flawed they are, in various ways (at least one of them is a homicidal maniac, after all).
Cruising is not an easy read then, and is more explicit than might be expected. Even for a novel written more recently some of the passages would be considered strong; violent and sexually themed. The style is psychologically claustrophobic, as might be expected, given the structure. This claustrophobia is emphasised by descriptions of cramped apartments, offices, and overheated city streets.
Cruising is not a long book, and readers who make it to the end will be rewarded by a powerful twist, and an undeniably dramatic, not to mention horrific climax.
A largely forgotten book about underground lives in an always atmospheric New York city.
Critical Social Theory and the End of Work (Rethinking Classical Sociology)
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
There are 13 murders in the book, and one self-defense killing, all but one of homosexuals, and, probably, all committed by homosexuals, twisted and conflicted beyond recognition, even by themselves. The self-defense killing is done by the desk-man at a bath house, who is trying to protect himself, and the surviving patrons of the bath house from a madman who has already killed six of the patrons--on his watch. Including this one, the killings are all committed by three men, eleven by one alone.
Two reviews by two experts, a psychological and factual summary of the plot, and a short reaction, which was used as a blurb inside the first few pages:
Russo deals with the BOOK, Cruising, as well as the movie, in The Celluloid Closet:
" William Friedkin's "Cruising" (1980) was based on a 1970 novel by Gerald Walker, a New York Times editor (actually the cultural editor of The New York Times Magazine--JMV) , Gerald Walker, that portrayed the process by which a New York City policemen, assigned to capture a psychotic killer of gay men, becomes aware of his own homosexuality, and commences murdering gays. The novel, while exploiting the socially instilled self-hatred of an unstable character, is homophobic in spirit and in fact; it sees all its gay characters as having been 'recruited,' condemned to the sad, gay life like modern vampires who must create new victims in order to survive (according to one kind of vampire legend--others treat vampire killing as a necessity, the creating of a new vampire as a sort of sexy work of art...yes---JMV). The gay characters in the novel are all filled with self-hatred and a hatred for the people who "turned" them gay (the blame usually falls on the first man with whom they had sex). Walker's killer (s--JMV) intimate that the homosexual lifestyle is an inherently violent one--not that the cruising scene is violent, but that to be homosexual is to be violent."
--Vito Russo, The Celluloid Closet,1987, 1981
Gore Vidal's comment, below, appears on the inside flap of the book Cruising:
"Brilliant and, sadly, unforgettable...One of America's most persistent sexual nightmares."
Russo's book, 368 pages long, covers more than three hundred films which portray homosexuals, in all imaginable ways-- between 1895-1987. That's a lot of films! Naturally, he made a few factual errors---all the gay men in the book are not violent. The cop's housemate and the madman's housemate are both intelligent and sympatico. In fact, there are only two really violent men in the book--told mainly from their points of view. But though other gay men make non-violent appearances, one feels a kind of strong, slender rope of hemp leading directly from the conflicted homosexuality of the two--to their violence. So yes--the reader gets the creepy feeling that if you knew you were gay when you were 4, or 10, or 16, you might be O.K, but if you find it out later, or never realize it at ALL, and hate gays anyway (or because of it)--you're likely to be a mad killer. It should also be said, playing the devil's advocate for Walker, that in 1970, although most scientists and many gay men knew that their minority sexual orientation was a natural one, there was as yet no genetic proof, (as there is now), that at least some of them owe it to their genes....like green eyes. So, technically, Walker was free to imagine any cause (I guess...). But what Russo says, in my opinion, is basically correct. The book is full of hatred, of self and of 'the others,' (the gays) as a German filmmaker put it in 1919, and to fill the reader of Cruising with a lot of mistrust of anything gay.
Vidal calls the book "brilliant", and, I am sorry to say, it is much better than a good read (and those last two pages, that another reviewer found either confusing, or disliked for some other reason, make the hair on the back of your neck stand up). It is, as Vidal says, a "nightmare." And, as he also says: "unforgettable." (I am very partial to Vidal.)
"Ever try to kick it?" the policeman asks his housemate, as if he were addicted to heroin.
"I'm homosexual... How and why are idle questions. It's a little like wanting to know why my eyes are green."-Jean Genet, 1910-1986