STORIES ABOUT gay male scholars in different eras can reveal intriguing contrasts. What did it mean to be a man, an American, a scholar, and a closeted “invert” in the 1920s? What did it mean to join an all-male “Gay Study Group” at Columbia University in the 1980s, when a life of art and ideas could be interrupted at any time by a sexually transmitted virus that destroyed the body’s ability to protect itself? Has the current legal status of same-sex marriage allowed gay men to join the cultural mainstream in the 21st century?
In Patrick E. Horrigan’s American Scholar, questions are raised and addressed in a narrative about James Fitzgerald, called “Jimmy” in his youth. The reader first meets him in 2016, when he is unwilling to dispose of twelve storage boxes that contain “all that is left” of the life he had with Gregory in the 1980s. Like many middle-class heterosexual couples, James and his current husband are in conflict about whether to bring a child into their lives, even though they could afford it. Like the author, James seems introspective, genteel, academic, and literary. His life just before Trump is elected is undoubtedly privileged, yet he carries scars from the past.