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Duplechan, Larry (b. 1956)  
 
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What distinguishes the post-Stonewall generation, and Duplechan's novel in particular, Nava argues, is its absence of the kind of self-loathing that characterized the work of previous generations. The writing of Duplechan and his contemporaries, including Nava, who grew up under the influence of the gay liberation movement, is distinguished by an unapologetic acceptance of sexual identity as a crucial element of personality.

Hence, Johnnie Ray, who at the beginning of the novel is yearning for a connection with his straight classmates, is finally liberated when he meets another gay youth, Marshall Two-Hawks MacNeill. As Nava notes, Johnnie Ray's discovery that Marshall is gay prompts an epiphany, the realization that his sexual and emotional longings constitute a gay identity that can be fulfilled only by forging a bond with someone else who shares the same identity.

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For Johnnie Ray, as for Duplechan himself, his gay identity is more defining than his racial identity. Yet it is not true, as some reviewers alleged, that Blackbird is insensitive to racial issues, including the discrimination Johnnie Ray faces as one of a handful of black students in his high school. Indeed, the novel subtly but unmistakably indicates the pervasiveness of racism in the conformist ethos that shapes small-town attitudes.

Blackbird was greeted enthusiastically in the gay press. In the Advocate Joseph Bean hailed it as the first contemporary black coming out story, seeing it as remarkable for its depiction of late adolescence. He ended his review by saying "We have all been waiting for this novel to arrive."

In Gay Community News, Michael Bronski noted Duplechan's "glorious" use of language, concluding that "What is great about the writing here is not just that it makes for a consistently good read—which it does—but that it also has resonance and depth, as well as feeling and grace."

Blackbird is by no means a perfect novel, but it is a memorable and significant one because it captures the yearning and angst of adolescence at a particular moment in a voice that is at once authentic and unique.

In 1989, Duplechan published his only novel that does not feature Johnnie Ray Rousseau and that is not narrated as an extended monologue. Tangled Up in Blue responds to the AIDS epidemic by telling the story of married couple Maggie and Daniel Sullivan and their gay friend Crockett Miller. When Crockett is diagnosed as HIV-positive, Daniel decides to be tested as well, which is when Maggie learns that her husband and her best friend were once lovers.

The least autobiographical of Duplechan's works, Tangled Up in Blue demonstrates that the author can write from the perspective of characters unlike himself, including that of a woman. Perhaps the most serious of Duplechan's novels, it tells a heartwrenching tale of love and friendship, illustrating how AIDS devastates the lives of its victims, including those who are not themselves infected by the virus.

Duplechan explained that Tangled Up in Blue was "an attempt to answer questions I'd asked myself after the completion of Blackbird: Could I write in a voice other than Johnnie Ray's first-person narrative? Could I write believable Caucasian characters? Could I write from the point of view of a woman? Could I write a comic novel concerning AIDS?"

These questions must be answered unequivocally in the affirmative. In some respects, Tangled Up in Blue is Duplechan's most ambitious and successfully executed novel. It also sold better than his previous ones.

Still, as John Pearson has observed, writing the novel was a risk for Duplechan, who had cultivated a readership that expected him to write about being black and young and gay.

Indeed, Pearson compares Duplechan's choice to write Tangled Up in Blue with James Baldwin's decision to write Giovanni's Room, another novel by a black writer with no black characters. While acknowledging that some of Duplechan's readers might have been disappointed by his abandonment of the character of Johnnie Ray Rousseau, Pearson contends that "by focusing his energies on material that does not reflect his own experiences, Duplechan has grown as a writer."

In Duplechan's next novel, Captain Swing (1993), the author returns to his characteristic narrative style and to the continuing saga of Johnnie Ray Rousseau.

In Captain Swing, Johnnie Ray is a "thirty-something-year-old black queer widow-man," a singer of some success who has not sung a note since his lover Keith was killed in a hit-and-run automobile accident a year ago.

Still wracked with grief, he returns to his home in southwest Louisiana, hoping to make peace with his dying father, Lance, who, according to his aunt, has been asking to see him. When he arrives, he discovers that the reunion has been devised by his aunt: rather than desiring a reconciliation with him, his father once again rejects him.

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