Larry Duplechan’s fifth novel, Got ’til it’s Gone, is set in his hometown Los Angeles and revisits Johnnie Ray Rousseau, a character Duplechan has worked with for decades. Readers who have followed Rousseau’s struggles since high school will undoubtedly enjoy seeing the lovable character face the challenges of nearing 50. Exploring the role that aging plays in the lives of gay men, Duplechan calls Got ’til it’s Gone his “coming of middle age novel.”
Heartwarming and charming, the story explores Rousseau’s admiration for his mother as she battles with cancer. Alongside that plot, Rousseau finds himself in a mid-life crisis. “For a lot of mainstream straight guys, that involves buying themselves a sports car,” Duplechan says. “Because the novel is set in the gay world, Rousseau finds himself a much younger guy.” In the midst of this dead-end relationship and his visits with his mom, Rousseau confronts life’s bigger questions.
Duplechan himself experienced an equivalent crisis in his ’40s — the struggle of reconciling his gayness with Christianity. Though raised Christian, Duplechan found that the black Baptist church “was awfully conservative and homophobic,” leading to feelings of isolation as he struggled with his sexuality during his teen years.
He left the denomination and went to college where he felt safe to come out, staying away from churches of all denominations (except when he was hired to sing in them) until the time he turned 40.
Losing so many friends to AIDS, Duplechan expresses continued surprise at his own good health.
“A lot of gay men live with the assumption that they’ll never experience middle age,” he explains, “so when we look around and we’re still here, we have to wonder what to do with that.”
Duplechan’s spiritual journey involved a return to his Christian roots but this time on his own terms. The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) allows him to experience a kind of unconditional love that he compares to “finding a childhood security blanket.”
The church in Got ’til it’s Gone is a kind of fictional homage to the real thing and welcomes worshippers from all walks of life, all genders and all sexualities.
“Queer people have been so damaged by the church,” Duplechan laments. Now serving as a deacon on his church’s pastoral care team, he experiences that damage first hand. “I’m taken aback every time I hear the question — ‘what if I really am going to hell?'”
Empathetic to the many queers who grew up with religion or who want to get in touch with their spiritual sides later on in life, Duplechan notes there is “so much healing that needs to take place.”
“We try to be a small antidote to that injury,” he says of the MCC.
As for his own relationship with his mother, Duplechan says it’s just as idealized as the one Johnnie Ray Rousseau had with his fictional mother.
“Clara is a kind of tribute to my mother,” he remarks. “Both of them are the kinds of women who would go without in order to make sure that there was money enough for her kids to take music lessons.”
Although Duplechan does not want his mother to read the book (because of the sexually explicit scenes), he tells me that his mother is his hero. He recalls how she “made sure we weren’t aware of insidious racism.” He remembers too that if he or any of his three younger brothers were falling behind in school, “Mom would march into that principal’s office and make sure we were placed in accelerated programs.”
Duplechan does not see himself as a “typical black gay man”.
“What most of us don’t get,” he suggests, “is that racial issues really have more to do with economics than anything else.”
Duplechan considers himself comfortably middle class. Even though he has managed to write five novels, he has always held a full-time job. In addition to writing, he also sings, writes songs, and plays the ukelele. He unnecessarily refers to himself as a ‘jack-of-all-trades and says that he never felt he was so great at anything that it warranted stopping everything else in order to pursue it.
But Got ’til its Gone exemplifies the expression “easy reading is damn hard writing.” Duplechan balances steamy sex scenes with family tragedy, relationship drama and a protagonist whose self-effacing inner thoughts are laugh-out-loud funny.
Complete with natural dialogue, warm relationships and impeccable comic timing, Got ’til it’s Gone is the work of a genuinely gifted storyteller.