Edward Cahill's 'Disorderly Men'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Sunday September 17, 2023
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author Edward Cahill
author Edward Cahill

Edward Cahill's moving, memorable debut novel does indeed deliver the "disorderly men" promised in the title. But the novel is set in the 1960s and takes place at a pre-Stonewall-era Greenwich Village gay bar, so "disorderly" takes on a hue and an entire life of its own. That, in itself, is the crushing beauty of Cahill's book.

The novel's foundation is built upon the theme of discretion, shame, and reputation, and in the early 1960s, intensely guarded privacy, stealth cruising, isolation, and repressed closeted homosexuality was a necessary lifestyle, and for many, the only way to survive.

Three men are at the center of the story, each of them bringing a separate conundrum of varying degrees into the fray. Roger is a professional financier and a "happily" married father of two, but whose desires lead him into Manhattan where he seeks clandestine dalliances with other men.

Julian, a Columbia University literature professor with a female fiancé, is enjoying a side relationship with an artist named Gus, who is out and comfortable in his identity, which should make a good impression on Julian, but it doesn't. This is primarily due to his employment regulations at the school that forbids moral infractions of the gay kind.

Finally, there's Danny, an outspoken Irish Catholic-raised supermarket produce manager who lives at home with his mother and several brothers who mock him for how he dresses.

As homosexuality in the 1960s was not only illegal but considered a grievous mental illness, all three men have a lot to lose if discovered and have taken big risks to be away from home on the particular night which forms the crux of the novel. Caesar's, the gay bar where the men socialize, suddenly becomes embroiled in a large-scale police raid and all of their lives are fractured and upended forever.

Roger is terrorized by the bar violence and tries to flee, but rather than fearing for his own safety, he worries that both his banking career and his home life with his wife and children will be threatened and possibly erased.

Julian and Gus attempt to hide but are caught when Gus defiantly confronts the cops and is attacked by an officer's baton. Danny is also brutally beaten.

No one escapes unscathed, and their torment continues down at the police station where threats to their reputations and home lives become a part of their capture.

Though Roger is released, his life and the way he perceives himself is forever changed. Danny's name is brazenly printed in a humiliating newspaper article that destroys his employment at the grocery as well as his family life, and he soon vows revenge. Gus mysteriously disappears, leaving Julian without the true love of his life and festering suspicions that police went too far in his torture.

Atmospheric, compelling, and impeccably detailed, Cahill's novel offers a midcentury snapshot into a dangerous, risk-suffused bygone world that today's LGBTQ community was birthed from. As there are no easy resolutions and nary a happy ending in sight, the book is also a cautionary tale with lessons and warnings demanding to be heeded, remembered, and learned from.

There are detractors everywhere who would like nothing more than for our community to be steered back into the dark, violent, abusive days depicted in this novel. Cahill's story is an essential reminder of the vicious battle we continue to fight to protect and liberate all of us.

Edward Cahill will be at Fabulosa Books Sept. 20, 7pm, in conversation with K.M. Soehnlein ('Army of Lovers'). 489 Castro St. www.fabulosabooks.com

'Disorderly Men' by Edward Cahill; Fordham University Press, $28.95 www.edwardcahill.net

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