You simply must read Richard Kramer’s sharp, humorous, affecting gay-themed novel These Things Happen (2012). It offers up multiple narrators as 15-year-old Wesley discovers first love and four parents: mother, stepfather, dad, and dad’s longtime partner George, is the novel’s best character. The book’s soul and snap is no surprise to fan of Kramer’s impressive career in television, writing / directing / producing My So-Called Life (1994-95), Thirtysomething (1987-91), and his adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s beloved Tales Of The City (1993).
These Things Happen is a big small book. A big small witty book. Just two days, a small group of characters, a school, a cafe, a cramped Hell’s Kitchen apartment, and a roof, but Kramer opens up an entire world.
Wesley is living with his father and George, to get closer to his dad. Wesley’s mom is happily remarried. Wesley’s best friend, Theo, announces at school he is gay. The opening scenes between Wesley and Theo are astoundingly funny and moving.
In many ways, this book is about parenting teenagers and it asks how much truth are they ready for? And what can a parent do for 16-year-old who is asking for answers, for guidance, but the only person strong enough to provide it isn’t even his parent?
Kramer’s writing is nuanced and his attention is unwavering. With great patience and insight, Kramer points out that the significance of words lies in the gaps between them, in the pauses during which we grapple with how to spell out the truth. And, no one understands this notion better than Wesley and George.
One the things that really struck me most about These Things Happen is the way the novel shows how different coming out of the closet is between the generations. Young Theo, doesn’t see his gayness as a big deal, but Wesley’s father, who was married and had a family before coming out as an adult, still struggles.
I was first attracted to this very New York novel because of the cover art by James McMullan, one of my favorite artists, who has done more than 75 posters for Broadway shows including Anything Goes, Carousel, Ah! Wilderness, A Delicate Balance, and South Pacific. He has also created illustrations for many magazine including New York Magazine for which he did the paintings of the Brooklyn disco which became the visual inspiration for the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). His coffee-table book, The Theatre Posters Of James McMullan (1998) lives in my bookshelves not far from Kramer’s novel.
But, I digress, These Things Happen is smart and sophisticated, and I loved getting lost in reading it. It was one of my favorite books of 2012 and it remains a favorite. You need it as a LGBTQ essential read.