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Blue Heaven, Joe Keenan

This was another author mentioned on rec.arts.books in response to the inquiry for Wodehouse-like authors (some of the others were Lawrence Durrell, E.F. Benson, Tom Sharpe, and Tom Holt). Keenan is not only like Wodehouse, if he were any younger, I’d be tempted to say he was Wodehouse reincarnated. As it is, the best way to describe Blue Heaven is as a book by Wodehouse if he had grown up gay in the 1960s.

Keenan is not simply imitating Wodehouse, either. It’s obvious that he’s read the master (the narrator is given a first edition Wodehouse for Christmas), but he’s made this type of humor his own. Setting a comic novel among gay men involved in the music theater and mixed-up with the mafia isn’t as far afield from Wodehouse’s fantastical world of young men in spats and treacherous aunts as it first might seem. We’ve seen from my recent reading that Wodehouse dallied with plots concerning organized crime. And while Plum never mentioned homosexuals (sex is a gender issue in his novels, not an action), many of his young men affected mannerisms that we have come to associate with that group.

But enough about Wodehouse–this is Keenan’s work, and fine work it is. The narrator is Philip Cavanaugh, a struggling lyricist on Broadway, who is also gay. His friend, Gilbert Selwyn, is also gay and a man with an allergy to work, and who has just shocked their circle of friends by announcing that he plans to marry–a woman! Not just any woman, either, but Moira Finch, a conniving she-animal with a history of bad investments. Gilbert lets Philip in on the scheme because he needs Philip to help pull it off. Gilbert and Moira are actually getting married because of the expensive gifts that they expect to receive from their respective wealthy families. The catch? There’s plenty, the most important of which is the fact that everything Gilbert ever gets involved with usually goes bad.

If I say any more, I’m going to start giving away too much. Suffice to say that this novel was incredibly funny, and that I’ve got the sequel, Putting on the Ritz, and it’s calling me.

[Finished 31 July 1993]


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