first novel, Taking Care of Mrs Carroll (1978), was written
while he was still living on the east coast, but its setting was inspired
by visiting Laguna Beach, south of Los Angeles, a longtime bohemian
and gay getaway. The zany novel does something new in gay literature.
It assumes the characters have come out. It is an exploration of how
gay men might create their lives together and with others, including
in this instance an aging lesbian movie star, Madeleine Cosquer, based
on Marlene Dietrich. Toward the end of the novel, the protagonist
notes what critic David RomŠn has termed the epiphany of the novel:
"I gave up the past I wanted to invent all along with the one I spent
my life burying." This was a lesson that Monette himself was learning
as he and Horwitz made the decision to move from Boston to Los Angeles.
The manuscripts of the novel seem to have been lost when Horwitz
and Monette moved. Only the last page of the holograph draft was
transferred in the papers at UCLA. On this only extant leaf, the
working out of the conclusion of the novel is apparent. The final
paragraphs are in the center of the page. After the protagonist
states he has been changed by the events of the novel, he questions
Madeleine about her long life and experience as an actress. Her
answer is rousing and ends the novel with one word gay men are so
often parodied for using: "'Fabulous,' she said.
Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll was published in 1978, the
annus mirabilis of emerging gay literature. Edmund White published
his third novel, Nocturnes for the King of Naples, with
an openly homoerotic dust jacket, Larry Kramer published his satire,
Faggots, and Andrew Holleran his elegiac novel, Dancer
from the Dance, the gay disco age's anthem, as works of F.
Scott Fitzgerald had been for the Jazz Age.
Mrs. Carroll was published when he was living in Los Angeles
and received good press but has been lost in the history of these
novels published by east coast writers. He hoped it would have an
impact because of what he thought was for then an unusual point
of view: "I take it absolutely for granted that gay people can make
joyful, coherent lives."
If Monette had been slow to come out of the closet, he had been making
various influential friends during those years that the gay community
and gay and lesbian literature and politics were also coming out of
the closet. Friends such as Craig Rowland, writing for community gay
and lesbian newspapers, reviewed his work. Monette was on the cover
of Boston's Gay Community News in 1978. The first national
gay news magazine was The Advocate, established in Los Angeles
in 1967. Its reviewer, Richard Hall, was the most prominent for gay
books at that time, and he wrote a rave review. The novel was also
reviewed by Jim Kepner, perhaps the first "gay journalist," having
worked on ONE magazine in Los Angeles since the early 1950s.
Published elsewhere were After Dark, the arts and entertainment
"gay" journal (it never touted itself as such, remaining in the closet
itself), and Blueboy, the "gay male lifestyle" and erotica
journal. Monette's novels benefited from these publishing firsts.
Excerpts of both Mrs. Carroll and The Gold Diggers
appeared in Blueboy with illustrations by George Stavrinos,
and an After Dark article asked, was Monette "Proust on the
The novel also received
good reviews in mainstream journals, but Monette faulted the staid
Little Brown which had published his poems: "First novels don't
get much promotion and most publishers don't know how to promote
a gay novel anyway." The dust jacket photograph was taken by Horwitz,
making the novel a felicitous collaboration. The cover is a striking
graphic but not particularly gay in its appeal. The 1979 paperback
reprint by Avon was over the top gay for its day, showing two men
kissing in an uncredited drawing which seems to be by Stravrinos.
Even as Monette gave interviews to publicize Mrs. Carroll,
he was moving further away from poetry: "I became frustrated . with
this myth of myself that my poetry created. I was good at it and
did good work. But the older I got the more my being Gay was central
to who I was, and I had to find a way to let that be what my writing
was too. As I began to come out, I started a series of poems. They
were long dramatic monologues. .One was an encounter on a transcontinental
train between NoŽl Coward and Marlene Dietrich." His attendance
as a student at the gay playwright's play had been one impetus for
The manuscripts for the books' individual poems are visually fascinating,
written with much revision in inks of different colors. A whimsical
note from Horwitz about copying "Musical Comedy" for Monette gives
a glimpse of their domestic life. The poems use Monette's refined
camp sensibility even in their choice of an epigraph from Coward's
Elyot: That orchestra seems to have a remarkably
He continued to write poetry, with "My Shirts," a poem to Horwitz,
published in Christopher Street in 1977. That New York-produced
publication was the most influential gay literary journal at that
time. A poem to Monette's brother and sister-in-law in Poetry
earned him a letter from poet Louis Untermeyer, the noted anthologist
of the mid-twentieth century: "What an extraordinary poem it is-a
remarkable combination of the whimsical, the sotto voce macabre, and
the delicately but distinctly moving." The poems were collected and
published in 1981 by Avon as No Witnesses with drawings by
Amanda: Strange how potent cheap music is.
manuscript of Mrs. Carroll
jacket of first edition of Mrs. Carroll
jacket photograph of Paul Monette for Mrs. Carroll
of paperback reprint of Mrs. Carroll
Title leaf with epigraph for "Musical Comedy"
First draft manuscript leaf of "Musical Comedy"
Note from Roger Horwitz to Paul Monette about copying "Musical Comedy"
Paul Monette on the cover of Gay Community News