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literature

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Duplechan, Larry (b. 1956)  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

At the center of Eight Days a Week is race. The lovers are attracted to each other by their racial difference, but their racial differences, or, rather, the stereotypes associated with those differences, also create problems for sustaining their relationship. Indeed, all the many differences between the men, from Keith's preference for classical music as opposed to Johnnie Ray's love of pop to their striking variations in temperament and ambitions are but markers of the racial difference that both brings them together and ultimately leads to their separation.

Although both men desire the "other," their "otherness" finally makes their relationship too difficult to sustain.

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In Eight Days a Week, Duplechan anticipates the negative response some readers may have toward his alter ego's attraction toward white men. As Johnnie Ray notes, "I was once told by a black alto sax player named Zaz (we were in bed at the time, mind you) that my preference for white men (and blonds, the whitest of the white, to boot) was the sad but understandable end result of 300 years of white male oppression."

Charles I. Nero has described Johnnie Ray's forthrightly expressed preference for white sexual partners as a challenge to the idea that "a black person's attraction to a white" is pathological; he also contends that Johnnie Ray's declaration of such a sexual preference is "a major moment of signifying in African American literature: the sexual objectification of white men by a black man."

Still, Duplechan has received little support from the black literary establishment, which has mostly ignored his work, perhaps in part because in addition to his sexual preference for white men he has repeatedly stated that his sexual identity has been more crucial in shaping his sense of his place in the world than his black identity.

Eight Days a Week received some positive reviews in the gay press, but was largely ignored by mainstream critics. The novel is flawed (as Duplechan has himself remarked, it "sort of topples under the weight of its own cleverness"), but nevertheless engaging because of its accessible style and the attractiveness of its protagonist.

Despite the failure of his first novel to garner much critical attention, Duplechan forged ahead with his second, the work on which his reputation now rests.

Blackbird may be regarded as a prequel to Eight Days a Week since it presents Johnnie Ray Rousseau as a precocious teenager using music to cope with the sometimes confusing emotions he feels as he comes of age and comes out in a predominantly white desert town near Los Angeles.

The title, which alludes to the Beatles song of the same name, signifies Johnnie Ray himself, a bird waiting to be set free. The lyrics to the Lennon-McCartney song urge a solitary bird with broken wings to "fly into the night" for "You were only waiting for this moment to arise."

Although the novel's plot is distractingly complicated, its arc is simple. Johnnie Ray, who at the beginning of the novel feels isolated and lonely, discovers not only that he is not alone, but also falls in love with an older young man who initiates him into sexual pleasure.

After some melodramatic moments, including a suicide by one classmate and the brutal beating of his best friend by his father and an attempt by Johnnie Ray's parents to have his homosexuality "cured" through an exorcism, the young man finally escapes the confines of his small-minded suburb and emerges into the freedom represented by UCLA, where at the end of the novel he has begun college and discovered a new home.

When he arrives at UCLA, Johnnie Ray says he "never felt so free in my life." He describes the term's first meeting of the Gay Students Union as "the world's biggest homecoming for me."

Michael Nava, in his introduction to the Arsenal Pulp Press twentieth-anniversary edition of the novel, observes that Blackbird is especially important because it reflects the attitudes of a post-Stonewall generation. (He argues that the writers who published immediately after Stonewall, such as Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, and Larry Kramer, were expressing pre-Stonewall attitudes.)

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