“Franny is the history of the development of the gay community,” author John Preston neatly sums up his book in one short sentence.
“Drags are usually portrayed as tragic figures in the gay world, but they were often its heroes. And its pioneers. They are the ones who settled our first ghettos and were often the ones who brought people together,” Preston writes in the epilogue to Franny, the Queen of Provincetown.
“Franny in Provincetown is the composite of every wise queen I met there-and I went to Provincetown at least once every year of my adult life.”
Originally published in 1983, Franny is the story of one queen’s journey through life, from the pre-Stonewall era to the onset of AIDS.
The story is broken up into chapters, each one representing a person that greatly influenced the main characters, whether it be a troubled lover who commits suicide or a boy with “the sickness” whom Franny cares for in his last days.
The best way I can think to describe Franny is pure, unadulterated emotion on parchment. It’s difficult to get through this book without crying, but the reminder of how far we’ve come as a people isn’t something that should ever be forgotten.
Franny is now being reissued by Arsenal Pulp Press as the fourth selection in its Little Sister’s Classics series.
Mark Macdonald, formerly of Little Sister’s bookstore and now with Arsenal Pulp Press, has been spearheading the series since its inception.
He points to Franny’s impact on gay literature as part of the reason for choosing it as the fourth installment in the series. He also says it’s symbolic.
“John Preston was a very good ally of the bookstore during the worst of the Canada Customs censorship,” Macdonald explains. “His books were confiscated from our shipments all the time and he was one of the first authors that started to get targeted. Anything he wrote would be detained and reviewed.
“So part of the choice is symbolic. We were waiting to get to court in 1993 and Canada Customs delayed the trial by a year,” he continues. “That was the year Preston died of AIDS.
“It was a very difficult thing for the bookstore. Not only are we losing these authors to AIDS but he is unable to go defend his work as being of value to our community.”
Preston protégé Michael Lowenthal met the author while he was dying of AIDS.
“The Preston who befriended me-who with such insistent generosity assumed the role of official mentor-was a persona invented and yet wholly genuine,” Lowenthal recalls in a heart-wrenching introduction to Franny’s new edition.
Before he died, Preston decided to write a sequel to Franny set in the era of AIDS (the original novel ended in the early 1980s). Lowenthal was his main sounding board and motivator during that time. The two became so close that Preston even decided to write Lowenthal into the manuscript as a trumpet player.
“I always knew how much I loved and respected Preston as a friend, but only now, rereading Franny and feeling the regret of never being able to know what he would have done with my voice, do I recognize how much I came to respect Preston as a writer,” Lowenthal says.
“Preston found success in writing Franny because he set aside his notions of what literature ‘should’ be, and instead wrote in the unadorned, conversational, direct style that felt true both to him and to his subject matter,” Lowenthal continues.
An unfinished draft of Preston’s sequel, Franny, Isadora & the Angles, is included in this re-issue.
The author picks up the characters after 11 years on the shelf and doesn’t miss a step. The characters are still fresh and come off the page like living, breathing people. Unfortunately, Preston died having only just begun the sequel and the included material is only 29 pages long.
Before writing the original Franny, Preston had been making a living off writing pulp stories for SM publications. So the gay literary world was more than a little surprised to read Franny upon its initial release. But the reviewers quickly came around.
“Mr Preston has found a convincing way to delineate much of what ‘liberation’ is all about,” writes John Rowberry in the June 1983 issue of Drummer magazine. “Franny is a strikingly original testimonial to greatness that might remind more than a few of us of where we came from.”
For every gay man or woman out there, for every twink trolling on Davie St, for every proud queen in Vancouver, for every Franny-this is one of the most vital and important works in gay literary history and I implore everyone who may be the slightest bit ignorant about our past, our trials and our sacrifices to read it.
Lowenthal sums it up best.
“One of the most troublesome aspects of gay culture has always been that our history is hidden and that as we make rapid advances within society, subsequent generations of gay people are so bent on looking forward that they forget to look back,” he says.
“Consequently, there’s a lot of reinvention of the wheel. This series of classic books is an important part of preserving our unique culture.”