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literature

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Duplechan, Larry (b. 1956)  
 
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The novel's plot complications include Johnnie Ray's dalliance with his cousin Nigel, who is now a handsome, lean-muscled young man. Their relationship, which represents a departure for Johnnie Ray in that the object of his desire is not white but black, is depicted both graphically and tenderly.

But the heart of the book is Johnnie Ray's attempt to understand his father's sorrow over the death of his preferred younger brother David in a drive-by shooting even as he must also confront the painful fact that his father is unable to accept his homosexuality or to love him the way he loved David.

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The comedy in the novel, which stems from the eccentricities of Johnnie Ray's extended family and from his tendency to view the world through the lens of camp, itself a coping mechanism for the pain of rejection, underlines the book's serious points about family and acceptance and grief.

In one of the book's most poignant moments, after he has been told by his aunt that he has never seen "this kind of sick," referring to the ravages inflicted on his father by cancer, Johnnie Ray riffs on the losses he has experienced from AIDS. He thinks of his friend Crockett, "whom AIDS had reduced to a sixty-some-pound skeleton with skin before finishing him off at thirty-two." He describes AIDS as "an elusive, ever mutating viral horror that doesn't just kill you dead, but kills you ugly."

After Captain Swing, Duplechan took a sabbatical from writing that lasted more than a decade. He has stated that he was disheartened by the failure of his writing to achieve commercial success, but also that writing is temperamentally difficult for him. As a natural-born performer, he found the isolation of writing and the long wait to receive feedback frustrating.

After a 1994 earthquake destroyed the house that he and Greg Harvey shared, Duplechan returned to music to ease the resultant stress. He founded an a capella singing group and also participated in community choirs and quartets, and began performing the ukelele. He also began writing songs. As Margaret Alic reports, "By 2005, Duplechan was singing his high tenor in a church choir and soloing on ukulele and guitar."

In 2008, during the brief period in California when same-sex marriage was legal in California, after 32 years together, Duplechan and Harvey wed.

That same year, Duplechan published his first novel in fifteen years, Got 'Til It's Gone, which resumes the saga of Johnnie Ray Rousseau, now forty-eight years old and acutely mindful of his mortality.

The title of Got 'Til It's Gone is taken from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," with its refrain, "Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you got / 'Til it's gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot." The elegiac tone of the novel thus mixes apprehension of impending loss with awareness of a need to live in the moment and to appreciate the present.

At forty-eight Johnnie Ray works as a secretary for a law firm, tortures himself in the gym to forestall the ravages of age, performs as a soloist for the First Assembly of Love Church, where he is a deacon, and seems content to enjoy the company of a series of friends and sex partners.

In the course of the novel, however, Johnnie Ray is torn between his attraction for Joe, a much younger bi-racial porn star who is HIV-positive, and his deep friendship with Dre, a black dancer and choreographer who has loved him for years.

In addition to coping with his own health problems, Johnnie Ray also must deal with the failing health of his beloved mother, Clara, who lives in Palm Springs with her second husband, a Jewish doctor. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, Clara faces the crisis of her imminent death with courage and calm, a reaction that prompts Johnnie Ray to meditate on the meaning of his life, the loss of his previous lover, and the possibilities of the future.

The novel dwells on loss and death, but Got 'Til It's Gone is ultimately an optimistic novel that ends with Johnnie Ray finding happiness.

Got 'Til It's Gone won a Lambda Literary Award in the category of Gay Romance.

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