As the executor of my deceased partner's will, I am sorting out his stuff, and in the process discovered copies of his two self-published books, both of them fiction set in Coney Island. Bob loved Coney Island, visited it in all seasons over many years, and created thick files of Coney clippings and memorabilia. So I reread his second work, The Professor and Other Tales of Coney Island. It's a gripping bunch of stories, but they aren't for everyone. The main character is the Professor, an aging gay male who chooses to live year round in a shabby boarding house where heat and running water are unreliable, and who records his impressions in a first-person narrative throughout. Interspersed with his narrations are stories of other year-round residents of Coney: freaks, prostitutes, a midget who longs to meet another gay midget, and Fran Saunders, a bisexual older woman who plays Big Mama to the other residents, listening to their woes with compassion. Those who stay on in Coney through the dreary winter months, when the summer crowds are gone, do so either because they have nowhere else to go, or because, like the Professor and Fran Saunders, they have an appetite for desolation. The Professor greets the dawn looking out his window at the deserted amusement park and the hints of an oncoming winter storm, while he has one, two, three shots of whiskey, and recalls brief trysts with younger men that never led to a lasting relationship. Later he will resume his reading of St. Augustine. And always, looming like another character in summer and winter alike, there is the brooding presence of the sea.
I say that this work is not for everyone, because it is not a fast-paced read full of action. If that's what you want, try my novels (see BROWDERBOOKS below.) Bob is a superb stylist and a master of mood, presenting Coney in all seasons, but with special emphasis on the desolate winter months, when the Professor chronicles Coney's deterioration and his own. There is gay sex at times, but no porn, and the end of one of the stories is heartbreaking. If you read Marcel Proust and savor him, this may be a book for you. If you read Samuel Becket and his accounts of decay and despair, this may be a book for you. But don't get it, if you don't really want to read it. I have only nine copies, all hardcover; they retail at $30.99, but for the moment I'm selling them for $25 (plus postage, if required). See below for other options.
Re the cover: The cover illustration was provided by Bob, who took photos of the abandoned Thunderbolt roller-coaster, which he had ridden many times in the past. If you look close, you will see vegetation creeping up over it. He once showed it to me, the property fenced off and overgrown with weeds. Especially fascinating was a little house under its hulking structure, where the widow or daughter of the deceased owner was said to live in isolation. For Bob, the abandoned site was a symbol of the deterioration of the Coney Island he had known and loved. He uses it in one of the stories in his book.
JUNK: AN EXECUTOR'S NIGHTMARE
Clothes. Bob’s don’t fit me, and he had three times as many as I did, filling most of two closets and at least five drawers in a bureau. Luckily, they can be donated to Housing Works, which has a thrift shop on West 10th Street. Pending that, every Saturday morning I tote out a load or two to donate to a stand in the Abingdon Square Greenmarket that donates or recycles clothing.
Medical supplies. A wheel chair, a walker, surgical gloves, wipes, pads, bandages, bottles of saline solution, and condoms for a male external catheter. (Never heard of the latter? Neither had I, until immersed in home care.) An outfit in Chelsea will take it all.
Jewelry. I was amazed to find how much Bob had. Some he bought, some probably came from his mother. Bright, glittery stuff, quite eye-catching, plus quiet rings that may be of value. Probably a mix of cheap stuff and items of value. A dealer in the Diamond District might be interested, but since the expert doesn’t think I’d get much, and the stuff doesn’t take up much space, I’ll keep it.
Three small Wedgwood items. All bear the Wedgwood name. Not sellable; today there’s simply no market for china.
Two Tiffany objects. A sterling silver letter opener that he gave his mother and reclaimed after her death, and a small vase given him by a friend, which he thought was also Tiffany, though it isn’t labeled such. Since the vase is questionable, I’ll keep both items.
If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you. An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018.
"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you. Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint." Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.
"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure. A must read." Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.
"This was a fun book. The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character. I would recommend this." Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.
"A lively and entertaining tale. The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent." Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.
"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing. The Author obviously knows his stuff." Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.
What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York? Gay romance, but women have read it and reviewed it. (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)
"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read." Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.
"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same." Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.