"It's people like Mama and me, I guess, who like to make the regular happenings in our town--like what happened to Joshua and David--sound like myth. There are those who doubt the veracity of my words. But I know. I was there."
So begins the voice of Eric Gottlund in Jim Provenzano's latest novel, Now I'm Here, as he begins his tale of how two boys discovered, lost, and then found each other again in the small town of Serene, Ohio, in the 1970's and 80's. It is both pointed and poignant. As the town's history is slowly erased by fading memories and encroaching suburbia, Eric brings back to life the two friends who showed him what true courage is. Fighting religious intolerance, small-mindedness, "rehabilitation therapy," the lure of fame, and the heartbreak of AIDS, the two boys grow into men before our eyes. And through their love of each other and rock'n'roll--and the English rock group Queen in particular--Joshua and David breathe life back into their home town, if only for a while.
A journalist in LGBT media for three decades, and the guest curator of Sporting Life, the world's first gay athletics exhibit, he also wrote the award-winning syndicated Sports Complex column for ten years. An Editor at the Bay Area Reporter, his seventh novel, Finding Tulsa, was published in September 2020.
Jim Provenzano is the real deal. If you have read any of his novels or short stories, you know he doesn’t create characters; he creates real people, people you know—or come to know—because he creates—or recreates—a world that you believe in and know. I can only speak for myself, I suppose, but when I read his stories of young gay men coming of age and falling in love, I get sucked in because he gets it just right.
Maybe there is something universal to being gay at a particular point in time—or maybe at any point in time. Maybe it just takes a good, perceptive writer to know which details will resonate with the reader and trigger recognition. Whatever it is, when I read Provenzano’s work, I catch myself thinking, “Yes!” because his words strike a very personal chord with me, as if he has read my diary and knows my experiences and feelings from when I was in situations that paralleled his characters'. I want to ask, “How do you know me and my life and my experiences so well?” And he doesn’t. He knows himself and his life and his experiences, and he can translate them into fiction that honors those truths and is very relatable.
NOW I'M HERE is set in the late 1970s/early 1980s and continues through the 1990s. It probably helps that I came of age in that era myself, but I feel that same sense of recognition from Provenzano’s stories set in different decades as well.
NOW I'M HERE tells the story of two young men, Joshua and David, who meet in high school, become friends and find themselves falling in love only to be separated, eventually—or inevitably—finding their way back to each other.
The book is divided into three sections, one for each phase in their relationship. The most compelling of the three, for me, is the first section where the two boys are negotiating the relationship and trying to understand their own feelings and falling in love. Provenzano is skilled at showing us the dance of flirting, testing the waters and trying to figure out what the other guy is thinking and feeling. It’s funny, sweet and sexy. His characters are, refreshingly, largely devoid of the self-loathing that can come with someone coming to terms with his same-sex attractions.
His use of music of the era—especially the music of Queen—as a backdrop to the story also sets the scene and the tone of the novel, which may seem strange in the written word, but for someone who grew up in the 70s, I found the musical references to be evocative because I could hear the songs in my head as I read. Provenzano uses these references well and ties them in thematically without being too on-the-nose, something he has done well in other novels as well. He also sent me back to my CD collection and to Spotify to fill in the gaps.
Provenzano uses a (mostly) peripheral character to narrate and tell the story. After an initial introduction, Eric, a high school friend of the boys, mostly disappears into the background, so much so that I forgot about him as I read the story as it was told in third-person with a seemingly omniscient narrator. Then, in brief moments, Eric would say something in first-person and insert himself back into the story, which was momentarily jarring, as I wondered who is this “I”? Was it Joshua, whose point of view the story followed more closely? And then I remembered, oh yeah, it’s the guy from their hometown. I wasn’t quite sure why it was he telling us this story, though I assumed, correctly, that Eric would come back into the story later to play a more important role. I also questioned how this guy who had been watching the two main characters fall in love knew about situations and conversations that happened when he himself wasn’t there. He knew the characters’ thoughts and motivations, which seemed unlikely, though early on in the second section of the book our narrator tosses off a quick explanation as to why he knew those things, so I thought, well, okay.
The book follows the story from Joshua’s perspective more closely than David’s, so after a few chapters where we follow Joshua and watch him interpret David’s actions without getting into David’s head, we are treated to a chapter from David’s perspective. It threw me for a moment, but it was completely welcome. I liked finally knowing how David felt.
In the second part of the book, Joshua and David have parted, and we follow Joshua to Los Angeles as he pursues a music career. Separately, David deals with his abusive father and then takes a cross-country trip to visit relatives. More time is spent with Joshua in L.A., though David’s journey during this time was the more compelling story to me. It was a digression to dig into David’s past, but again, it was most welcome and, if anything, I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with David, but we spent as much time as we needed, I suppose.
When the boys come together in the third section, Eric, the narrator, comes forward in the story, and we pull back from Joshua and David. The story is still centered around them, but it feels as if we are watching them from a few steps away—more from Eric’s perspective—as the boys deal with their relationship and the unwelcome intrusion of HIV and AIDS. It was emotionally distancing, but as the story moved forward toward its, sadly, inevitable conclusion, it was incredibly moving and the tone was very fitting. And it was earned.
A love story, a history-touched gay romance, a realistic yet romantic novel. Any one of these could be a good description of Jim Provenzano’s new book, “Now I’m Here.” And all of them are.
Told from the point of view of two boys, who become two young men in love; and with a narrator to make further connections and flesh out details for us, “Now I’m Here” isn’t your everyday novel. The characters are achingly real, the time and setting solidified by contemporary music references. The details make it seem as if this story happened in real life. For some of us, it did.
Teenage angst, small town bullies, families trying to cope, AIDS, young love, gay history and more come together for what isn’t designed as a feel-good story. Still, it leaves you feeling good through a connection to the characters and the resulting desire to know that their lives made a difference.
I very much enjoyed Jim Provenzano's almost epic novel of two young men who fall in love in high school in "Serene," Ohio, a small town in the Midwest. It reminded me of other masters of Midwestern fiction such as Willa Cather and James Purdy, except that Provenzano is more honest in his work and more emotionally available. The story is told by a friend of theirs, Eric, an overweight harp player who plays "cocktail harp" when he's not engaged in local symphony gigs, and augments that with real estate sales. It's the Rust Belt, you gotta do what you do to survive. Survival is very much a part of the story of Josh Evans, a piano protégé, and the genuine love of his life David Koenig, a muscular blonde farm boy who is unapologetic about his own lack of culture, and his very embracing heart. It is not easy for the two of them to get together, even in Serene which is a college town with a somewhat real gay presence—David's father is an abusive drunk, his mother abandoned her family; and Josh's parents, though they love him very much, have a difficult time accepting him. Provenzano is very good at depicting the musical background of Josh's life, especially his love of Freddie Mercury and Queen, as well as farm life itself. This is about a small town and the people in it, their pleasures and worries. Big city life comes into it when Josh is offered a chance to go to Hollywood and become "discovered." He learns there that LA is "a great big freeway . . . in a week or two they make you a star," as Dionne Warwick sang. He soon returns to Serene and David's arms. The rest of the story is poignant and memorable. You won't forget this book, and may even read it twice.
Such a sweet story. This is one of those books that could be converted to a movie for Here TV. I’m glad it hasn’t. If you are a fan of small-town romance between two boys who grow up together and endure small-town life, or the music of Queen (or both), then this is a must-read.
‘Before I die, I want to do something great in this town.’
California author Jim Provenzano joins the great novelists who have written important and lasting novels about men in love, and while he has won prizes for his work it is now, with his publication of NOW I’M HERE that he joins the ranks of the major authors who have had a lasting imprint on our society and the LGBTIQ community. André Aciman, Andrew Holleran, Colm Toibin, Edmund White, Nicholas Sparks, and now Jim Provenzano are important artists whose impact is significant. NOW I’M HERE is particularly impressive in that the story is about two disparate lads who fall in love in a small town in a difficult time, and the unusual stance of the story is that it is told through the eyes of a common friend who reflects on how the lovers lived and survived.
From the Prologue, ‘Face a man with death, let him come out shining, and you might call his bravery simple. Face a small town boy with fame, love, and death, all before legal drinking age, and you will never call his bravery simple. This is not my story. Lacking a family other than my mother, I abide with ghosts. I have a spare bedroom in my apartment, which Mama insists I should rent out to save money or, inadvertently to find a good man. But that room s for the boxes. The remnants of Joshua and David, two boys who were my friends: boxes I still sometime browse, full of letters converted into blog posts, cassette recording changed to mp3s, photos still to be scanned, to be remembered, to share Joshua’s gift and David’s love and support to the end. And that rickety old upright piano in the dining room sits silently, reminding me.’
This is a love story a related by Eric Gottlund, and the synopsis spells the facts – ‘So begins the voice of Eric Gottlund in Jim Provenzano’s latest novel, Now I’m Here, as he begins his tale of how two boys discovered, lost, and then found each other again in the small town of Serene, Ohio, in the 1970’s and 80’s. It is both pointed and poignant. As the town’s history is slowly erased by fading memories and encroaching suburbia, Eric brings back to life the two friends who showed him what true courage is. Fighting religious intolerance, small-mindedness, “rehabilitation therapy,” the lure of fame, and the heartbreak of AIDS, the two boys grow into men before our eyes. And through their love of each other and rock’n’roll—and the English rock group Queen in particular—Joshua and David breathe life back into their home town, if only for a while.’
Words of admiration and appreciation fail the task of honoring this fine novel. Provenzano knows this period, the highs and lows of two men in love living in a world that simply could not or refused to understand their love. The only entry point into the glow of this novel is by reading it at least once – and probably more. It is a masterwork of the highest order.
For those hungry for an emotional read, this book is for you. It is a beautifully rendered tale of boys becoming men. And if that isn't difficult enough, their teenage years are further complicated by same-sex attraction at a time and in a place that challenges them at every turn. As a fellow Midwesterner, the scenes were all too familiar and at times almost difficult to read for the memories they provoked. We have become used to Provenzano creating characters that are hard to forget. In this book, he has done it again with the complex and engaging Joshua and David.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book which I picked up in San Francisco (where the author lives). It is a sweeping journey of two lives that commence, divert and then reconnect over time. Though the ending is sad it is nevertheless realistic and I particularly enjoyed how the author used Queen songs as headings for each chapter (noting the central role of the band in Joshua’s life). Very enjoyable and hope to read more of this author who clearly can tell a story.
When we think of great epic love stories ("Gone with the Wind," "Doctor Zhivago") they formulaically span multiple decades with significant historical events interspersed among the timeline of events, as one obstacle after another prevents the seemingly star-crossed pair from coming together as one.
Joshua and David, the brave couple brought to life in Jim Provenzano's captivating, unforgettable novel, "Now I'm Here," manage to experience a quintessential epic romance albeit in just a few short years. Were it not for the admiring (and admittedly jealous) eye of their friend, Eric Gottlund, who meticulously narrates this heartbreaking, breathtaking story, the saga of Joshua and David could have easily gone unnoticed.
In the small town of Serene, Ohio, where everyone knows everybody else's business, these two youngsters are an especially unlikely pair. Joshua comes from a nuclear family and has an affinity for music - the piano, in particular. David lives on a farm and was raised by his hard-drinking, customarily distant dad. Granted, not exactly the Montagues and Capulets, but they both instinctively know how they're different and, more importantly, how they're alike. It takes a Queen concert to impress upon these gentlemen that what they're capable of sharing is more than friendship.
The courtship of Joshua and David sustains the trials and tribulations of adolescence (decorative girlfriends, peer pressure and unintentionally harmful pranks), a rehabilitation facility with unorthodox practices, and road trips to Texas, Hollywood and San Francisco. Both young men escape Ohio for different reasons, but destiny brings them back to Serene and each other. The unruly activity during their away-from-home adventures takes its toll, yet thankfully they have each other to help contend with the consequences.
Because their story is told often matter-of-factly by a third person, Eric, there is a looming sense of worry and concern throughout, because why else would there be a need for an eyewitness account unless something unfortunate has transpired? This storytelling method effectively and passionately conveys the lengthy, turbulent evolution of their compelling, inspiring and uplifting relationship.
The love story of Joshua and David reminds the reader how to appreciate the extraordinary in the ordinary. Professionally speaking, neither of these men achieves fame or accomplishes anything especially newsworthy, but what they share emotionally is nothing short of remarkable. Some books you read for laughter, intrigue, debate or information. "Now I'm Here" makes you feel.
Two boys grow up in small-town Ohio in the ‘60s. As teens they fight against their own fears and the forces of lawnorder to forge a relationship. Lawnorder pulls the two boys apart, and we watch each fight his way back to the other, till they create a home. Till death do them part, in the late ‘80s.
No spoilers here: the narrator of this novel tells us from the beginning what will happen. But the emotions we get to experience along with the couple flesh out the plot so that we, too, worry, expect, anticipate, fear, anger, and grieve with these guys.
Joshua, one of the pair, blossoms as a piano prodigy and a devotee of Freddie Mercury. Every chapter title, as well as the novel’s, is a song from the era. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not a chapter because it is practically a character in the story: Joshua loses himself in playing that song throughout the novel. David is labeled a “farm boy” in the brainwashing/boot camp that lawnorder sends him to. And he is, and so he remains. Charming roadside seller of pumpkins and pansies, stoner, lover, de-facto husband. No wonder these two kids fall in love with each other! No wonder that the hatred of others cannot kill their love.
What this novel tells us in sum is this: Although these lovers do not live happily ever after, they do doggedly grab all of the love and happiness they can, and that’s a lesson for all of us.
A good Young Adult novel that older readers will appreciate, as it takes place in the 70s and 80s. One warning, if you're looking for a happy ending, this is not the book to read. But the story does deal well with being young gay men in the rural mid-west during those difficult decades.
In this loving and eloquent homage to 1970s and '80s Midwestern life, the author introduces us to Joshua Lee, a shy budding piano prodigy, who, years after a grade school tussle, befriends farm boy David, who invites him to a Queen concert. The band's music inspires Joshua, who gains popularity with his piano solo performances of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
David and Joshua's pot-smoking nights together, and at parties, soon becomes a hidden romance, and the two young men find hidden places to make out, most often in David's truck. A sidebar tragic death of a lesbian school friend felt like an odd addition.
An abrupt departure after a silly streaking prank (so very '70s) leads to David's removal from school. He's forced into a rehabilitation camp, and his sullen return prevents their reconnection. The two separate after high school, Joshua to Hollywood for a grasp at fame on a talent show, and in the then-growing New Wave nightclub scene. David, meanwhile, escapes his father's pumpkin farm to Texas to visit relatives.
Soon, though, they return to the fictional southern Ohio home town, build a life together, and endure farm duties and the foreshadowed threat of AIDS. Eric, the narrator, becomes a close friend, and becomes a part of the story. Told through his reverent and slightly eccentric voice, music continues to play a strong part in their lives, and the touching tributes to his friends left me in tears. Very strongly recommended.
What I found fascinating was how the author imbues a completely different voice for the narrator, unlike any of his other books. As a big fan, like others, I'd say that this among is his best.