Review: The Handsomest Man in the World by David Leddick

In the shadow of the 1954 nuclear bomb tests on the Bikini atoll, two sailors begin a tender, passionate affair that will carry them all around the USA: to San Francisco, Manhattan, Fire Island and Washington DC. The lovers learn, with fumbling hands and lips, how to satisfy one another, but the erotic heat of their sexual explorations is matched by the tension of their dangerous situation. Can their forbidden love withstand the relentless hostility of the Eisenhower years?

Review by Erastes

I couldn’t find a decent blurb for this book, and the one above, garnered from Amazon doesn’t do this book justice at all. It makes it sound like an erotic novel, and although there’s a lot of sex, it’s not described more than “he entered me and came quickly” — on that sort of level.

What the book is is an entirely entertaining and delightful read, in a raconteur style–that is, as if the narrator was sitting in a bar and telling you the story of the first love of his life, rather than writing it down.

The blurb also hints that there’s a lot of external conflict, but really there isn’t, so anyone expecting the lovers to be cowering under the bed from the police will be disappointed. The conflict comes mainly from Fred (Bill–the narrator’s–handsome man) being “not homosexual” and about 50% of the time that he makes love with Bill, he regrets it so much afterwards that he starts saying how much he hates him, hates him “making him do it.” (which is, of course, entirely unfair as it’s pretty damn obvious that he wanted to do it at the time!)

The love affair lasts a lot longer than you’d expect, and for the most part, when Fred isn’t beating himself up mentally for being queer, it’s a touching and convincing love, and succeeds even through separation and long distance while Fred is still in the Navy after Bill leaves. What’s really touching is the affection between the two of them, and had they met in the 90’s perhaps they’d have had more of a chance together.

I loved the descriptions of the ’50’s most particularly, you get a real feel for ’50’s America–and most particularly New York–as the couple settle down in their tiny twin-bedded apartment in Greenwich Village. It’s beautifully described, the clothes they wear (mainly from Brooks Brothers) the places they go to socialise (they don’t mix with any other gays, although there must have been some kind of gay scene, hidden away) and their outings to areas around New York not yet spoiled by holiday homes and over tourism. Leddick does the raconteur style cleverly, and it’s the little touches like “Oh we probably stayed somewhere in some little town” or “I can’t remember what we were wearing, no tee-shirts, as they were still considered underwear.”  Details of misremembered facts really emphasize that this is someone telling you the story, straight from his flawed memory.

It does, as you can imagine, have a bittersweet feel to it throughout, because this is a tale of a man’s first homosexual relationship–and first love is one we all remember probably through more rose-tinted spectacles than it deserves.

I did feel a little sorry for Bill at the end, because he felt the lack of love in his life, despite having a few serious relationships after Fred, and it left me with a little lump in my throat.

Author’s Website

Buy:  Amazon UK Amazon USA

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