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Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,438 ratings  ·  196 reviews
A child of the 1950s from a small New England town, "perfect Paul" earns straight A's and shines in social and literary pursuits, all the while keeping a secret -- from himself and the rest of the world. Struggling to be, or at least to imitate, a straight man, through Ivy League halls of privilege and bohemian travels abroad, loveless intimacy and unrequited passion, Paul ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 25th 2004 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published June 22nd 1992)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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I came out at 17. I came out when I fell for a man 11 years my senior. I fell for a man who, in relation to me, was in a position of authority. It was one of the luckiest things to have ever happened to me in my entire life.

There are many who will read this and self-righteously pronounce it to have been damaging. How very wrong they would be. Damaging is what my life would have been like if I had not met this man. That life is the life that Paul Monette has written about in this book: A life of
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Charts the author's journey out of the closet into self acceptance. In urbane, witty prose Monette sketches the first twenty-six years of his life, at which point he met his lifelong partner. Born in a working-class New England town in the ‘40s, the writer realized early on that he was different from other boys and struggled to make sense of his sexuality as he grew up. The memoir dramatizes the struggle he faced in accepting his queerness during his youth and early adulthood, at elite instituti ...more
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story is a memoir written by Paul Monette in 1992 as he was fighting AIDS and it also won him the National Book Award. He died three years later at the age of 49.

This book was written about the first half of his life — from childhood into his twenties. Monette was a gay man who came of age in the 60’s and attended elite schools like Andover and Yale. He knew early on that he was different sexually and unsurprisingly had major identity issues as he was in the closet an
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all humans-gay,straight,men,women
Recommended to LenaRibka by: Ije the Devourer of Books
To say that I love this book would be a pathetic understatement.

I do not rank myself among lovers of memoirs, and here I am, having finished my next non-fiction book by Paul Monette, and desperately trying to find the right words that could do justice to Monette's life and his amazing personality.

In Becoming a man Paul Monette told a life story of growing up, coming out, finding himself. It's a long painful process, full of fears, angst, shame, suffering from low self-esteem, self-hatred,doubts
Ije the Devourer of Books
There are not enough stars for this book.

I don't even know if I can ever review this meaningfully and fully capture my reading experience. This book won the National Book Award for 1992 and I am not surprised because it is simply amazing but also deeply haunting and painful. This is one story, a true story that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

This is more than a coming out story, it is indeed a life story or half a life story as the author describes it and I am grateful that the author
Julie Ehlers
Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story was Paul Monette's response to readers of his first memoir, Borrowed Time, who wanted to know how he and his partner Roger got together and fell in love in the first place. Here, Monette examines his childhood, his realization that he was gay, and his first furtive attempts to do something about it, eventually leading to his finding true love at the age of 26. Monette seems to feel that 26 is a really long time to wait for true love (some of us would beg to diff ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
First published in 1992 and yet, here in 2015, in a small town at the bottom of the world, I read the words of Paul Monette and am in shocked awe of how much I see my own life in his. I think if I read this at an earlier age I would have thrown the book aside or dismissed it completely; obviously still in doubt about my own guilt. But now, at 33, I'm glad to have come across it and read it.

The impact of his words are so real it actually hurt to read them. But then, I guess, that is the reality
Feb 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
This is one of those books that I went in wanting to like. Resurrecting texts from former classes, hellbent on actually reading the books that I was introduced to during my 4 years at college, I picked this one off the shelf, remembering some of the discussions we had about it in my Gay and Lesbian Lit Class.

Monette's story started out a bit dry, but I figured that he had to "set the stage" before he could really get into "it"--his feelings, his experiences. Unfortunately that passionate jolt n
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Jordan by: Queer Life Writing 410
Thus in my own crippled way I had no choice but to keep on looking in the wrong places for the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing. For that was the image in my head, though I'd never read it in any book or seen it in any movie. I'd fashioned it out of bits of dreams and the hurt that went with pining after straight men. Everything told me it couldn't exist, especially the media code of invisibility, where queers were spoken of only in the context of molesting Boy Scouts. Yet
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
This is the first work of non-fiction I have read since I began writing my novel just over five months ago. Since my novel is about a gay man in his late teens I have focused most of my recreational reading on other works of fiction where the protagonist is gay and/or coming of age. I chose to read Paul Monette’s 1992 agonizing, painful yet beautiful memoir which won the National Book Award for non-fiction because it is not only an important piece of 20th century literature but also one of the m ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: coming-of-age, memoir
Like the best of us, I've spent a little time in therapy, aimlessly talking about my childhood, my personal interactions with family and loved ones and colleagues, and my ever evolving identity. It was a process I found incredibly fascinating and even freeing—coming to see myself as a character in my own unfolding story.

Reading Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story was a little like watching a person in therapy, as Monette retells and extrapolates and muses. It's a painful journey to watch unfold, a
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My god, this one hit me where I live. I picked it up completely at random, without realizing that it was a memoir about being deep in the closet and deeply depressed at Yale. It feels wrong to describe a book this raw as "beautiful," but it truly was. I kept thinking, while reading this book, of a passage I read once but have not been able to find again (Sedgwick? Butler?). I know I'll paraphrase it badly, but it was something to the effect of: the pain of coming out (to ourselves, even more so ...more
When you finally come out, there's a pain that stops, and you know it will never hurt like that again, no matter how much you lose or how bad you die.

Paul Monette's Becoming a Man is the first memoir I've read about being in the closet, and I have to say, it sets the bar pretty high. Reading this, I felt such a resonant sense of kinship with Monette and his pain. He's so intimate with the reader, sharing all of his most painful and revelatory moments from childhood up to coming out as gay and fa
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay, first-edition, memoir
A beautiful, classic, poetic - nearly tragic - journey to exit the closet. This is the absolute best of all coming-out stories, not necessarily for its particulars, although they are universal and heart wrenching, but for its sheer literary excellence and intelligence. What came later in Monette's life was the real tragedy, similarly masterfully detailed in his book Borrowed Time, but that is indeed the other half of his life story. ...more
Mel Bossa
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm going to be to brief because anyway what I feel after reading this book can't really be tapped into and poured into a review without therapy of my own.

I thought Borrowed Time was the tragedy. This part of Paul Monette's life, the years before love, are sadder in many ways. But don't be fooled: he recounts those years of self-loathing, lying, self-sabotage and longing with such lucidity and jaw-dropping honesty that instead of shaking my head in disappointment with his less than impressive c
Annette Gisby
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in the 50s and 60s, Paul Monette strives to be what everyone expects him to be: a straight A student, polite, kind, normal and straight. But even as a child Paul knew he was different, but he did everything in his power to push that difference deep down where no one could see it or even suspect him of being queer. He lied to himself, to his parents, to everyone around him so that he could fit in and not be singled out for the bullies and the haters.

I can hardly imagine how hard it mus
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book about 5 years ago because one of my favorite authors, Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss) wrote an introduction to it. It is the biography of a man growing up gay in the suburbs, prep schools, and universities of 60s and 70s-era New England and it perfectly describes what it's like to live in the closet and try and fit in or pretend you're something you're not. I'm re-reading it, out loud this time, to my boyfriend - and every 10 pages or so I get choked up and can't go on because ...more
Sep 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book was very hard to read, and still, it was worth every feeling it summoned.

It's the autobiography of a man who had to hide his true self, it's a journey through the pain of hiding, through the pain of pretending.
His closet and his fears are the same of each person who has to hide, no matter the reason behind it, and it's so very true.

Together with the pain this book summoned in me an incredible amount of anger. No one should go through all of this for his sexual orientation, it's horribl
May 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredibly well written memoir. I picked it up on a whim based on the advice of the bookseller. Just calling this a coming out story wouldn't do it justice. It far more complex than that. I like it for its depiction of the New England upper crust in the 50s and 60s (Philips Academy, Yale etc) and his fine-tuned description of the people in his lives. It's the perspective of an outsider looking in. ...more
Nicholas Dicarlo
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Gave me courage and gumption to pursue my own writing. Full of rage against the hate and indifference. Balanced with a tenderness and appreciation for love. Paul careful examines his past, the succession of closets through which he hid until claiming his ability to love. In owning his sexuality, he finds a deeper capacity to love and subsequently his authentic voice as an author.
Hank Stuever
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic of its era. Unforgettable. And came along just at the right moment, and also in the nick of time.
Apr 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015
I'm so glad Mr. Monette found happiness. I only wish he had gotten to live longer and write more beautiful words. Everyone should read his book Borrowed Time also. It's truly stunning. ...more
Manuel Colón
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow. It took me way longer to finish this than I expected. But, I can't wait to through myself into other books by Paul Monette. ...more
Adam Richardson
Jul 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Having just come out myself, I found this book fascinating and cathartic in so many ways. No one can argue that this book isn’t a piece of art that is beautifully written. Monette’s story about coming to terms with sexuality is very unique and interesting. My one critique is that it does drag a bit at the end because you don’t quite know where the book is going but the last page left me in tears. I wish with my whole heart that the author could’ve stayed alive a little longer to give us a sequel ...more
John Flower
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took a couple of attempts to start this book, as it is so dark to start with. It was written as he was dying of AIDS and had lost so many to that scourge, so his mental attitude was understandable.

Once I got past what was basically the preamble, it was an intriguing story of a boy and then a man coming to terms with his sexuality in the turbulent times of the 1950's through the early '70's. He is gut-wrenchingly honest.

I highly recommend it.
Juan Fernandez
Dec 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
By far probably the hardest book I've actually read. Uses an extraordinary amount of academic language. Not that it's a bad thing, but a majority of readers need to be reading with a slang/vernacular that is understandable. It's hard to focus on the plot or the point Monette tries to give the audience. The very beginning starts off dry and with no hook. Understandable, this is the beginning and perhaps he may be trying to start off with a slow buildup. This is not the case, as much as I wanted t ...more
Adam Dunn
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: glbt
I finished this book tonight and I cried. I cried because I had never before read such powerful, proud words on what it means to be gay.
Monette contracted the HIV virus and with it a clarity I have never seen before. He knew at that time that it would be the cause of his death and that combined with all the events of his life up until that point, it made all the pieces fit together in a way that staggers me.
Monette with his verse is able to still maintain the smarts from his earlier work, and y
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
The only reason I gave this a four rating instead of a five is that the last quarter of the book is painful to read, he goes through contortions, decides he is bisexual and tries to have sexual relationships with women, and although he has strong emotional ties with women it is painful to witness to so much trying to be anything but the gay man he obviously is. And by then it is the 1970s. But through his life he "was exhibiting a sensibility..." He was the only one at his prep school in Andover ...more
Steve Woods
Apr 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was painful to read, not because it was poorly written but because of its intensity. The story of a young gay man trapped in the smothering closet imposed by the societal mores of the 50's and 60's when he grew up. The pain and loneliness of separation and of being different were so palpable they literally tore at my sense of stability. Not least because I am so familiar with that condition from my own childhood and adolescence. The performance this poor boy put himself through to hide ...more
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating memoir of Monette's first twenty-odd years of life, growing up a closeted homosexual in the 50's-70's in the USA. I could identify with so much of Monette's feelings of invisibility at an all boy's school, trying to pass as straight, and then realising what psychological damage this does through therapy sessions. I never went so far as to have relationships with women, and obviously I grew up in a supposedly more enlightened UK in the 80's-00's, but I still empathised. Monette writ ...more
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Documentary: On Brink of Summer's End 1996

Online Guide to Paul Monette's papers at UCLA:

In novels, poetry, and a memoir, Paul Monette wrote about gay men striving to fashion personal identities and, later, coping with the loss of a lover to AIDS.

Monette was born in Lawrence, Massac

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