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Sunshine State Blues
The Sin Warriors
by Julian E. Farris
Lethe Press. 270 pages, $15.
(from The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, Issue #100)
This FIRST NOVEL by Julian E. Farris captures the antihomosexual
hysteria of the 1950’s and early 60’s. The
activities of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee
(FLIC), whose mandate was to find “subversives,” including
“homosexuals,” form the backdrop for this dramatic
story about persecution.
From 1956 to 1961, when its activities were finally approved
by the state government, the committee operated outside the law.
Targeted “suspects” were summoned late at night to hotel rooms,
where they were questioned about their private lives, their
friends, arid the reputations of colleagues or classmates. They
were threatened with total ruin if they withheld any information.
This historical material is covered in a nonfiction account, Communists
and Perverts Under the Palms: The fohns Committee
in Florida, 1956-1965 by Stacy Braukman (reviewed here by
Diane Hamer in the Sept.-Oct. 2012 issue). Farris has woven fictional
characters into a believable plot that is closely based on
the known facts.
The novel focuses on different characters by turns. First
there’s Billy Sloat, a fictionalized Charley Johns, head of the
Johns Committee, whose motivation for launching the witch
hunt, in Farris’ account, can be found in his upbringing. Sloat is
supported by his henchmen, a lawyer and a police investigator,
who aid and abet his slide away from democratic principles and
fair play. Sloat’s victims are also three-dimensional characters
who (like Sloat) have been formed by childhood experiences,
and who yearn for acceptance.
David Ashton, a college freshman, has survived an upbringing
by an angry mother who won’t explain why David’s father seems
unwilling to have any contact with David, although
he sends him a birthday present every year. By the time David
arrives at the state college, he has already experienced a broken
heart when his “best friend” deserted him. David is ripe to discover
a wider world of ideas, as represented by a popular humanities
professor who becomes the mentor to a close-knit
group of young male students. The “family” that Professor Lee
forms with his protégés comes under Billy Sloat’s scrutiny as
evidence of the cynical perversion of innocent youth in the guise
of education. Yet the scenes of Professor Lee’s musical evenings
with his “boys” evoke the wholesome joy of young adults coming
to understand the world and their own place in it.
The Southern legacy of racial segregation, the influence of
religious fundamentalism, the politics of social class, and the
targeting of post-secondary schools as hotbeds of corruption by
anti-intellectual bigots are all seamlessly woven into an absorbing
plot about coming of age and learning to love in a dangerous
time. This subject matter is the stuff of melodrama, but
Farris handles it with understated skill. This novel is written in
the realist style of the “problem novels” of the era in which it
takes place; it is both of its time and beyond it.
The characters in this novel are more memorable than their
circumstances. When David and the professor casually enter an
obscure bar named the Stonewall Inn in New York, the belabored
significance of this scene can be forgiven because of the
implied promise that their lives will get better. These characters
are resilient and easy to like. We want them to “come out” and
live honestly, without fear. This novel is worth reading because.
It shows how far the social and legal status of GLBT people has
come in approximately fifty years, from a time when sexual minorities
were openly persecuted, sometimes to death, by every
major institution. (Gay and Lesbian Review- http://www.glreview.com)
The Sin Warriors is an enticing addition to any gay historical fiction collection, highly recommended.” (Midwest Book Review)
“…reinforces the reader with the innate power of an individual to overcome seemingly impossible adversity…a valuable lesson for younger readers who may be unaware of the impact of homophobia in our society…at that time. Strongly recommended reading.” (Bob Lind, Echo Magazine)
“Farris has woven fictional characters into a believable plot…closely based on the known facts. Farris handles it with understated skill. This novel … is both of its time and beyond it.” ( Jean Roberta, The Gay Lesbian Review Worldwide)
“A remarkable and compellingly addictive read. … A window into a past we need to see to understand where we are today.” (Scott Cranin, TLA Entertainment.)
“What Stockett’s The Help did to bring alive the individual stories of race in the South in the…1960s, The Sin Warriors does to illuminate sexual orientation during the same era.” (Thomas Serwatka, author, Queer Questions, Clear Answers
“A sizzling tale of closeted corruption, McCarthyite intimidation, ruined lives, state-sponsored pornography…and down-and-dirty politics under the moss-draped oaks of the Sunshine State.”(Elliott Mackle, author of the Captain Harding series)
”Farris exposes with a passion the cruel inequalities of Florida’s past. He does not forget to tell a story, a touching story rich in historical details, in the process.”(Sandra McDonald, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Diana Comet)