A Night at the Ariston Baths, by Michael Murphy
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: April 25, 2016
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
In rural Pennsylvania, Theodore McCall lives on his family’s farm and works as a clerk at the local general store. While his best friend, Martin Fuller, thrives in New York City, Theodore trudges through life. But on New Year’s Eve, 1902, Theodore’s world is turned upside down, and big changes call for bold action.
Theodore, who has never ventured more than eight miles from home, undertakes the daunting journey to New York City to join Martin. But the Martin he finds in New York is a stranger, a different man, doing things Theodore finds shocking. After just two months in the City, Theodore’s world is upended again as he and Martin are swept up in the events at the Ariston Baths.
Haunted by his experiences in New York, Theodore returns home, wondering whether he’ll ever find happiness in life. When he meets Jasper Webb, Theodore must boldly risk everything for the love he so longs for.
In the Closet
This book caught me completely by surprise in such a great way. I really had no idea what to expect when I picked it up. Right off the bat, I was intrigued by the dedication (to the memory of the men whose lives were forever altered one night in 1903). I immediately discarded all naughty thoughts of Turkish bathhouses from my brain.
And it was a good thing I did, because the book started off at a slow pace as it laid the groundwork for what would ultimately prove to be a fascinating tale. The prologue is set in 1969, where an elderly Theodore is watching a news report of the now-historic events that happened at the Stonewall Inn in New York.
The story then shifts to the younger version of him, working hard at the local general store in his small home town in western Pennsylvania. We learn of his deep abiding friendship with Martin, who had previously moved to the Big Apple to strike out on his own. Seeing as they discovered their homosexuality and experimented together as youths, Theodore is both hurt and fascinated to learn that Martin has met and had sex with other “inverts” in the big city. Through a series of unexpected circumstances, Theodore finds himself on Martin’s doorstep in NYC and is immediately introduced to its dizzying pace and its many temptations.
In the beginning, I found the author’s writing style to be quite heavy and plodding. Some of the dialogue seemed very stiff, almost formal with minimal use of contractions, and I wondered if this was Murphy’s way of conveying how small town folk conversed in the early 20th century. Thankfully, the writing style loosened up and the pace of the story picked up quite noticeably about a third of the way in, right around the time Theodore is placed on the path that would lead him to New York. And from there, the story became downright fascinating.
For readers like me who had never heard of Ariston Baths prior to this book, I’ll just say that the title of the story refers to a significant event in American LGBTQIA history. Keep in mind that even though Theodore and Martin met plenty of other gay men in the big city and life there lent an appearance of freedom and anonymity, their homosexuality was nevertheless considered highly deviant and was in fact, punishable by law.
Ultimately, Murphy spins a satisfying tale of heartbreak, hope, friendship and love based on true events. Despite a few niggles (such as using the words “data” and “sexy” which were arguably not in common use during that time period), his work was otherwise well-researched and it opened my eyes to a lesser-known part of our history. I highly recommend this book.
In a world of so many things, how do you settle on just a few? All my life I’ve been interested in everything around me, wanting to see new places, meet new people, tell new stories. Writing has been the culmination of a long term dream. Being a part of the Dreamspinner family is priceless beyond compare.
You can learn more about Michael Murphy by visiting his website.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.