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The Gay Place

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Set in Texas, The Gay Place consists of three interlocking novels, each with a different protagonist—a member of the state legislature, the state's junior senator, and the governor's press secretary. The governor himself, Arthur Fenstemaker, a master politician, infinitely canny and seductive, remains the dominant figure throughout.

Billy Lee Brammer—who served on Lyndon Johnson's staff—gives us here "the excitement of a political carnival: the sideshows, the freaks, and the ghoulish comedy atmosphere" (Saturday Review).

Originally published in 1961, The Gay Place is at once a cult classic and a major American novel.

560 pages, Paperback

First published October 12, 1983

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About the author

Billy Lee Brammer

1 book6 followers
Billy Lee Brammer (1929–1978) was a journalist, political operative, and author born in Dallas, Texas. He worked as a newspaperman in Corpus Christi and Austin before becoming an editor at the Texas Observer magazine. He then joined the staff of Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. While working for Johnson, he wrote the three novels that make up The Gay Place. He began work on a sequel, but never completed it, dying at age forty-eight of a drug overdose.

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5 stars
140 (35%)
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139 (35%)
3 stars
73 (18%)
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32 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 60 reviews
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,897 followers
March 7, 2011
I might have gone with four stars if not for the format of three interlocking novellas. I would have preferred one long, fully connected story. The three novels revolve around the LBJ-like Texas governor Arthur Fenstermaker, although he is, oddly, almost a minor character in the first two novels. They focus more on the younger, less influential political players in the governor's orbit. When Fenstermaker does make an appearance, he demonstrates the raw power of the good ol' boy network of politicking.

All of the novels follow the self-inflicted downward spiral of the '50s-era Austin-tatious new rich, in all their debauched and vulgar incarnations. These were people who had started out in a highly idealistic, progressive political movement. They dissolved their lofty liberal hopes for the nation in an endless wash of booze and general moral degradation.

Billy Brammer was a staffer for Lyndon B. Johnson, so I have no doubt this is an accurate fictionalization of the time and place. Brammer was a fine writer with a special ability to probe the minds and hearts of characters who recognize their own weaknesses but can't seem to detach themselves from the thrill of power and the fun of being one of the beautiful people.

I had some difficulty remaining sympathetic toward the characters. Somewhere around the second chapter of the third novel, I was weary of them, and bored with their faux-apologetic drunken fumbling for each other's fleshy protuberances and dangling bits. It's a credit to Brammer that he created them so convincingly, and I'm grateful to have been reminded of why I stepped away from greater involvement in politics after my own experiences with people of this ilk in college.
26 reviews3 followers
January 14, 2013
The quintessential novel about Austin.

This passage says it all:

It is a pleasant city, clean and quiet, with wide rambling walks and elaborate public gardens and elegant old homes faintly ruined in the shadow of arching poplars. Occasionally through the trees, and always from a point of higher ground, one can see the college tower and the Capitol building. On brilliant mornings the white sandstone of the tower and the Capitol's granite dome are joined for an instant, all pink and cream, catching the first light.

I sometimes turn to this novel when I want to have my spirits lifted and think about how much I love this town. Actually it is three short novels linked under one name-- and from what I have read, Brammer changed the original order before publishing it. So many places that ring true with me -- the Dearly Beloved (Scholz Garden), the Capitol, Congress Avenue-- all lovingly joined together in the political drama that unfolds. One of my all-time favorites that captures the essence of the Austin I knew in my younger days.
Profile Image for ALLEN.
553 reviews116 followers
March 16, 2018
What Robert Penn Warren did for Louisiana politics with ALL THE KING'S MEN, the late Billy Lee Brammer tried to do with Texas politics in THE GAY PLACE. The results may not be perfect, but they are potent enough that I'm giving this one four stars. Set in the late 1950s when Texas politics was starting to liberalize in spite of itself, these interrelated novels are a perfect blend of historical acuity and psychological analysis as larger-than-life characters stomp through the changing landscape. (See if you can pinpoint which one's Lyndon!) I bought my first copy when it was reissued in the Seventies and re-reading it was a labor of love. It’s also very funny at times. THE GAY PLACE is a book I'm always happy to recommend.

Note: "Gay" here is used in its traditional meaning of "jubilant," "festive."
Profile Image for Matthew.
318 reviews13 followers
August 3, 2016
I certainly didn't expect a novel based on LBJ's political career in Texas to be chock-full of eroticism and complicated passions. Not that the Johnsonian character is involved in most of the hanky panky - he floats over all the proceedings spouting quotes from the Old Testament and Hill Country superlatives - strangely, he is the most aloof character and the one I identified with the most.

This novel is largely concerned with young people involved in Texas Government in the late fifties. It is an immensely sad and depressing work - filled with Austin's rich and powerful pining for the innocence they never had. Unfortunately, Austin's rich and powerful are still, to this day, a boring stench in the world's nostrils - they just don't cough up beautifully-wrought prose about it anymore.
Profile Image for Aaron Arnold.
428 reviews130 followers
January 24, 2013
The Gay Place's reputation as the greatest novel about Texas politics ever written was well-deserved. Somehow I got reminded strongly of J.D. Salinger when I was reading this, even though the authors couldn't be more difficult in many ways. I just got that feeling that comes from reading good writing, that sense of smooth narrative flow and apt characterization, the deft humanistic touch and avoidance of tedious writing clichés, that I got in the best parts of Salinger's stuff. From the lack of similar connections by other reviewers, I guess I might have been the only person to feel that way, but apparently Brammer once wrote a short satire of the Kennedy Administration called Glooey based on Salinger's Franny and Zooey, so it's probably more than just a coincidence. Anyway, this is Billy Lee Brammer's only novel, and much like John Kennedy O'Toole's similar situation (or Salinger's, come to think of it), that tragic paucity of output is a black mark on the record of American literature.

This is an immensely strong set of three interconnected novellas set in the political scene of 50s Austin, and its boozy, lurid portrayal of the era appears to have benefited from Brammer's history as a member of Lyndon Johnson's staff and circle of confidantes (at least until it was published and Brammer found himself exiled). This is one of the best examples of the "political novel" - each novella has a slightly different set of characters orbiting around the inscrutable dark star of LBJ stand-in Arthur Fenstermaker, whose presence is mostly felt and not seen as everyone drinks heavily and has existential crises and sleeps with each other at will. However, even though politics is the novel's setting and driver of the plot, actual political issues make only very brief, perfunctory appearances. It's really about how all these people deal with the wreckage of their lives and how powerless they feel even as they help Fenstermaker cope with events and run the state, with truly awesome amounts of drinking and cheating along the way. This works well, because it's vastly entertaining without having to spend time on boring things like tax policy.

The first story, The Flea Circus, follows Willie, a drunken journalist who edits a paper Fenstermaker likes, and Roy Sherwood, a politician who gets involved in a bribery scandal and is sleeping with Ouida, an associate's estranged wife. The second story, Room Enough to Caper, follows Neil Christiansen, a drunk and US Senator Fenstermaker appointed to fill out a term who has to decide if he wants to run for a full term of his own or leave politics entirely, while he also decides whether to reconcile with his estranged wife Andrea or pursue Elsie, a young girl who works in a bookstore he owns. The third story, Country Pleasures, follows Ray McGown, Fenstermaker's frequently drunk chief assistant, who has to manage the filming of a political film out in the country and decide whether to return to his daughter and estranged wife Vicki, who's also at the ranch, or just get with Sarah, one of Fenstermaker's secretaries.

I've made it sound repetitive but it isn't at all - Brammer draws each portrait beautifully, smoothly jumping from person to person over the chapters to emphasize different parts of each story and capture what life was like for people in the antechambers of power. I also appreciated the skillful contrast between the pitch-perfect vernacular of the dialogue, which is a hilarious mix of exaggerated Texan buffoonery and alcoholic meanderings, and the complex poetry of everyone's interior monologues, which are full of dark worryings and secret longings. Brammer could flat-out write, especially when it comes to Fenstermaker's apocalyptic Biblicisms, and he switches from comic to serious register with effortless ease. I also enjoyed whenever the female characters got their own POV sections; Texas politics back then might have been a macho, full-contact sport, but all the women here really filled out the story and showed a different side of all the scheming and maneuvering. Certainly after you finish it you're forced to think a bit on the relationship between these very flawed people and their dedication to a life of politics.

Speaking of flawed people in politics, the scandalous behavior described here supposedly hit so close to home that Brammer, who had written for the Texas Observer before LBJ recruited him, was never able to get back into Johnson's good graces, and he eventually died of a drug overdose after being unable to recapture the literary peak he reached here. And what a peak: as a description of Austin during that time (locals will easily recognize places like Scholz Garten), it is unmatched, and the only other political novel in its class is Robert Warren's All the King's Men. Knowing the sad ending to his own personal story gives the ending to the book an extra resonance.
Profile Image for James Murphy.
982 reviews155 followers
July 17, 2019
A reread.

The Gay Place is 3 related novels about Texas politics. The protagonists are a state legislator, a U. S. senator, and a staffer, aide to the governor. That governor, Arthur Fenstemaker, dominates all 3 novels as a God-like and Satan-like presence, sometimes both at the same time. He's the fuel propelling the narrative progression of the plots. Billy Lee Brammer worked for 4 years as an aide to Lyndon B. Johnson, and he modeled Fenstemaker on him. Because the likeness is apparent, the reader's confident Brammer's inside understanding of the man and his brand of politics allows him to capture the powerful display of personality and political authority.

My favorite of the 3 novels is the last, Country Pleasures. Standing head and shoulders above the others, I believe, it describes the governor's visit to a rural film set closely resembling the movie Giant. There he meets the actress who seems to me to be a combination of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, along with an actor who suggests James Dean. This 3d novel is the staffer's story. He's under more pressure than the legislator and senator of the earlier novels. I preferred the edgy clamor of his personal conflicts over the 1st two novels where the conflicts involved the party machinations and exertions of power you expect in a political novel. In addition, Brammer's prose here shows a fierceness that suits the larger lives thrown down in the vaster landscape of West Texas.

I read this ahead of the new biography of Billy Lee Brammer thinking a new familiarity with his novel(s) would give me a clearer vision of the biographical subject. I'm glad I reread it. I like to think (and say) I'm a better reader than I was 39 or 40 years ago and sure I appreciated it more now.
675 reviews26 followers
January 31, 2018
First things first; they should just change the name of this book to "The Flea Circus," which is the title of the first of the three linked short novels that make up this piece. Having read the whole book, I understand why Brammer chose it, but the English language changed on him and it is not a good title now.

This is a great novel of American politics. It stands easily with "All the King's Men" and "Advise and Consent."

This book is fascinating, shocking, and consistently insightful. It's one of those Philip K. Dick-type novels of nested infidelities among a group of 1950s friends, but instead of being mind-controlled by Venusians, they are all under the thumb of Lyndon Johnson. Brammer was a Johnson staffer in the 1950s, when Johnson was in undisputed control of Texas and Austin was his crown jewel. The character of the governor, Arthur "Goddam" Fenstemaker, was undoubtedly formed from the magnificent bastard himself, and it's true that after the book came out Johnson never spoke to Brammer again.

Anyway, there's this mess of Capitol staffers and their wives, running blind drunk around Austin in the 1950s, getting in trouble and having sex with each other and trying to be good parents. There are bribery scandals and beautiful foreigners and courageous newspapermen and shenanigans with starlets and parachuting accidents and political intrigue of every stripe. We never stay with any one character for too long (though Fenstemaker is omnipresent), but meet them all and their lives and loves and private tragedies in quick succession. One of my favorite scenes is the very first one, where a small-time politician wakes up drunk in a parking lot and is so disoriented that he starts campaigning randomly at anyone who walks by.

The book had an extremely surprising ending for a roman à clef. It's hard to convey how good the ending is, but it's best explained by saying this is art. This book is a novel as an art form, written when people were consciously trying to push realistic novels to do new and surprising things. The ending begins when the reader is plunged into a blind panic at the thought that something terrible may have happened to a character that they only met sixty pages before, but then something else happens, and then something entirely different and terrible happens, and you're left with the same lingering suspicion that you've had all three novels that Fenstemaker orchestrated it somehow.
Profile Image for David.
643 reviews234 followers
August 24, 2022
This enjoyable and entertaining book consistently appears on lists of favorite books about Texas or books that you should read to live in and/or understand Texas. It’s often amusing, and it’s hard to be funny. The book is most interesting when the book addresses how retail politics work, but it only intermittently addresses this topic.

It also seems to be a book that nearly everyone here in Texas has an opinion about and/or a nostalgic recollection of the impression it made on them the first time they read it. I love getting into conversations like this. These types of conversations are infinitely preferable to other topics that frequently come up nowadays, like property tax exemptions.

The book reminded me of Richard Linklater’s Austin-based first movie “Slackers”, in that it captured entertainingly the sardonic talk of overeducated but underambitious Texans. It also reminded me of the television series “Mad Men”, in that it contained vast quantities of daytime drinking by people nominally at work, which (like the same behavior in the TV series) seems now to be a quaint and outdated relic of a simpler time and place. It also reminded me of the movie “American Graffiti” in that it contained an enormous amount of driving around (often while drinking, see simpler time above) on roads that were so unburdened with other traffic that the activity was considered bracing and relaxing by drivers and their passengers, an state of mind which, I can attest, is not frequently generated by traffic conditions today in the same precincts in which this novel is set.

As mentioned, I like it best when the book addressed the nuts and bolts of politics directly. It told me things I didn’t know. For example, I read from time to time of the practice of killing noxious legislation by piling on amendments. Here’s a character in this book describing how it’s done:
“... there was this bill pending that was backed up like a sledgehammer by the new car dealers. Practically all the gold in Fort Knox was behind it. The new car boys were unhappy about the used car boys…. It would have stopped car sales on Sunday. You know. Religion and all that. And it was going to pass for God’s sake. Can you imagine? So Kermit gets this idea. He calls me over and says how about amending the thing to exempt Buddhists. Kermit’s been practicing Zen and he says he might want to start selling used cars on Sunday and why the hell should he have to observe somebody else’s religious holiday? So I put it up and argued and my God it passed! So then some of the others pitched in with amendments exempting Seventh-Day Adventists and Jews and Mohammedians and some oddball sects, and very soon the sponsors got the idea. They could just visualize all those sharpie used car dealers – all those Rasputins – claiming they were big on Zen or Shinto converts and getting away with it. So they withdrew the bill…”
However, these moments of realistic-seeming insight do not occur so often. In between the occurrences, there are long, long set pieces of boozy parties given by young people with seemingly inexhaustible access to family money without the drawback of the physical presence of the family members themselves.

Perhaps, if I’m understanding the author correctly, this was the actual function of the Texas state legislature at the time: a place to farm out the wastrel sons (never daughters) of new oil money who, after scraping through law school, embarrassed the family by zooming up and down the Main Street of their small towns in late-model candy-colored sports cars and by carrying on with unsuitable young ladies.

However, looking at the Texas state legislature of the present day, it is easy to get nostalgic for these young men of old times who (with all their faults), in comparison to today’s occupants in the Leg., seem like a gaggle of philosopher-kings.

But I digress.

Speaking of unsuitable young ladies, I have to say that, if you are the type of reader who requires fully-realized female characters who, at least occasionally, act as if God gave them at least a little common sense, you may find yourself wrinkling your nose up at this novel at certain points. As mentioned previously, this novel is a genuine product of the era portrayed in the TV series “Mad Men”, and as such women are almost exclusively portrayed as over-sexed and/or easily-seduced. There are undoubtedly some people like this in the world, so it’s OK to have some characters like this, but when all distaff characters are like this, it seems possible that the author was not actually capable of writing about women in any other manner.

As for the men, all three of the related novels have, as the principal protagonist, young men in comfortable circumstances but are vaguely dissatisfied with their lot. These characters are not comfortable working, reading, resting, driving, conversing in small groups, thinking, taking care of their children, being considerate to their loved ones, or any other activity. They display a restlessness which is only, at long last, put to rest when they abandon whatever other activity they were engaged in (for example, taking care of their children) and, after zooming through the night in their candy-colored sports cars, find a loud and aimless party at which they can drink until they pass out, after or during the process of groping a young lady.

I found the similarity of all three protagonists a little baffling until I read more information about the author. The author had a successful career as a staffer in the political world which allowed him to write knowledgeably about it in this novel. He wrote this book, also successful in its day. After that, perhaps with interesting amounts of money for the first time in life, he seems to have hit a wall, drank and did a lot of drugs, and died at an early age. My contention: all three protagonists are reflections of the author himself, who (in my theory) found no activity more salubrious than getting drunk and/or stoned. He could write himself as a character, but he could not prevent his own destruction. It’s not unusual (in fact, it’s very normal) for a novel’s protagonist to be its author in light disguise, but it’s a little tragic to see an author with the cleverness to recognize the personality type but lacking the ability to see and remedy it in himself.
Profile Image for Ray Grasshoff.
Author 4 books4 followers
August 22, 2011
The Gay Place, a novel with a title that today suggests something entirely different than when written 40 years ago, is widely regarded by many reviewers as the best ever work of fiction about Texas politics. Indeed, when I first read this book (which consists of three loosely linked novellas) decades ago, I enjoyed it immensely and tended to agree with that assessment. But reading it again, I wonder why I felt that way … and why others still hold it so highly. Save for Governor Fenstemaker, who is clearly based on Lyndon Johnson and steals the show throughout the book, almost all of the characters are pretty much duds, drawing very little empathy, and ultimately, even less interest. It’s difficult to develop much interest in what happens to any of these cardboard people, and it’s no wonder that a consummate political manipulator like Fenstemaker had his way with them. Maybe that’s more fact than fiction, and come to think of it, perhaps that’s why people who might have been in the know praise this work so much.
Profile Image for Grace.
31 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2021
It was very good, but I think I wanted more. The novella device worked well, but all three protagonists heavily overlapped in terms of character. To that point, I now suspect someone I know structured their personality along the morals and verbiage of this book, but that's neither here nor there.

The Gay Place is gorgeous and it reads like a classic because it is one, with all the benefits and shortcomings that come with that designation. Occasionally women got personalities, but only occasionally, and even then they felt pretty shallow and unbelievable. Some delicious streams of consciousness, but also plenty ambient racism to go around. While I did love all the definitely-not-LBJisms, the best part of Gay Place was the easy, rich locality oozing down the pages. As a kid who grew up with politicians trying to tell me what "real Texas" was and (more often) was not, I found Gay Place's Austin to be refreshing and validating.

You can say a lot of things about this book, but you can't say it's not overtly, aggressively, Texan.

Profile Image for Simone.
1,430 reviews45 followers
April 8, 2012

So I started reading this because I was going to Austin for spring break, and this is one of the quintessential Austin books. Ugh. It's a set of three political novellas all revolving around a Texas governor based on LBJ. First, the language and style of the book is very dated. Also nothing much seems to happen. Ostensibly it's about politics and politicians, but I think I've been ruined by Sorkin, because really it's just parties, sex and lots of drinking. Occasionally someone tries to bribe someone, but that's about it. Mostly through the first story, I hated this enough to want to give up, but I kept at it for some reason leaving this like an albatross around my neck. I finally made it through with the help of copious speed reading. Can't say that I would recommend.
97 reviews4 followers
September 26, 2014
This book is a disappointment. There are passages which illustrates how Lyndon Baines Johnson succeeded in passing legislation: lots of full-time attention to details and a encyclopedic knowledge of legislators, lobbyists, and politics. This is the valuable part. However, much of the book describes the habits of some Texas legislators and their employees: drinking, partying, and sleeping around. It is fiction supposedly based upon real persons. I feel that it really describes the life of the author and his friends. Maybe he liked Hemmingway's writing, maybe it was the casual sexual habits of the times, maybe it is just sensational gossip. This is the part that probably sold the book. I admit that he was a good writer, but feel that the book should be more serious.
Profile Image for Kathy Sebesta.
786 reviews2 followers
February 18, 2016
The jacket calls it a classic along the lines of All the King's Men. I don't think it's that, but it is a thinly disguised, over the top, story about a Texas politician who bears a striking resemblance to early LBJ. It was even written by one of his staffers. Hmm...

Anyway, the Governor is very much of the 50s-60s period, and does all the kinds of things politicians did openly back then, like controlling the press and running the public carnival that ran the state. It was the good old boys at their best/worst and Brammer certainly got that right. I do think it dragged a lot in places and there were several times when I thought about putting it up. But if you can get thru it, I think you'll find it worthwhile.
Profile Image for Kristy.
587 reviews
March 7, 2009
This book is made up of three novels by Billy Lee Brammer, all taking place in Austin and featuring a Johnsonian governor named Arthur "Goddamn" Fenstemaker. A must read if you live in Austin, like Texas, are interested in politics, or know anyone who has ever worked for the legislature. The first of the three novels was my favorite, but all of them are really just wonderfully great. I did find myself drinking way more bourbon than usual while reading this book and resisting urges to attend wild parties, drive around in the country with a drink in my hand, and neck in dark corners with friends and strangers.
Profile Image for Dan Oko.
40 reviews4 followers
March 20, 2008
A curious read with newfound relevance for those who want an up-close-and-detailed insider's account of Texas politics. Sure, its about LBJ not W, but for those inclined for soapy melodrama and riveting characters, author Billy Lee Bammer carries the swirl of politicos, movie stars, journalists and lobbyists off nicely. The opening and closing "books" of this three-part novel were my favorites. Too bad we live in an era when the title alone would disqualify many people from carrying this book.
Profile Image for Frank Stein.
964 reviews121 followers
September 24, 2020
This book is three separate novellas from 1961 (just before the title would take on a different connotation) which all orbit, but do not focus on, one figure: Arthur Fenstermaker, governor of Texas. In reality, Fenstermaker is a combination of Texas Governor Beauford Jester, who died in office, the subsequent Governor, Allen Shrivers, who played himself in the movie Giant, and Louisiana Governor Earl Long, whose womanizing made him famous. But most importantly, Fenstermaker is Lyndon Baines Johnson, the man who Billy Lee Brammer worked under for a few years in the late 1950s after a stint at the Texas Observer, and whose raw political talent Brammer remained in awe of for the rest of his life.

Yet though all the characters interact with Fenstermaker, the real story is of the collected bohemians, speechwriters, journalists, and liberal academics that moved around Austin, Texas in the 1950s. There is a hint of beatnik, and a hint of Greenwich Village and a hint of old salty Southern pol about all of them, but they also come across as relatable and real. The best novella is the first one, The Flea Circus, concerning the reporter Roy Sherwood and his semi-virginal love Ellen Streeter and the liberal state legislator Arthur Rinemiller.

Yet all of this does little justice to the actual book, which is a lyrical and lovely take on life in what might be called late youth, when the parties seem a little less revelatory and yet the responsibilities not real enough to add weight to life. It may also be the best political novel in American literature, right up there with All the Kings Men and Advise and Consent. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Profile Image for Mandy.
74 reviews11 followers
September 13, 2011
This week’s headline? Arthur Goddam Fenstemaker

Why this book? texas writers month

Which book format? UT press reprint

Primary reading environment? heart of texas

Any preconceived notions? required reading blah

Identify most with? her cosmic lover

Three little words? "hah yew, honey?"

Goes well with? gin, rose petals

Recommend this to? all good texans

I've always wondered why people weren't meaner to me about my political timidity. I'm almost 29, reasonably well educated, and I even worked as a city reporter once. So sometimes it baffles me that I haven't been publicly shamed for my ignorance.

Once, at a press conference during the Obama campaign, I asked a national-level official to comment on a local issue that I thought he would be abreast of, because, well, even I knew about it – then watched in horror as his aide had to clarify the question and the glazed-eyed politician turned to give me some vague, canned soup answer. And I was still kind of shocked that none of the other reporters stood up, pointed at me, and yelled "fraud!"

The Gay Place, misleading title and all, has become a new favorite book. Gay, in this sense, is a reference to the antics of the idle rich who run our government. So very idle, and so stinking rich. There's another truly hilarious instance of a word gone out of fashion later in the book, and the new meaning is so comically in-tune with the way Brammer uses the old meaning that it overshadows the "gay" in the title. It's toward the end though, so I won't spoil the surprise, but it has to do with "what gives a man a social conscience."

The Gay Place has also offered two possible explanations for political people tolerating my stupidity: 1) They see that I am a woman and do not factor into the action of the story at all, unless it is to make coffee, answer the phone, or have lots and lots of sex with as many of the male characters as possible or 2) Politics is the very stuff of life, and no one thoroughly understands it in the end.

Other cultural accompaniments: Frost/Nixon (2008), the highland lakes, Paul Burka

Grade: A

I leave you with this: "They were all such amateurs, he thought. Risen out of innocence, out of grace, passing into awareness and a kind of hollow sophistication with hardly a corrupting experience – a genuinely horrific crime – come in between. And there were parallels. You could trace the wornout course of their piddling derelictions right alongside their politics. It wasn't enough; not enough, moreover, to stand away and point to how the public and private business ought to be carried on, clucking your distaste and disapproval. It was insufficient – in fact, it was ruinous. He wondered about the Governor. Had he somehow managed to transcend into some blessed state, passed them all, perilously close to the abyss until reaching a point of holy ground from which he could view the whole speckled landscape, viewing it without a tryannizing emotion? At least he remained operative – old Fenstemaker – he knew what absolutely had to be done; he could engage himself and then withdraw without losing that commanding vision. Even when the vision itself was not as prettified as it might once have been. The truly able, it appeared, had only so much time to squander on disillusion and self-analysis. Then those destructive vanities were turned round and put to the business of doing what had got to be done. The truly gifted, as opposed to the merely clever, were too busy running things to be bothered. He thought briefly of his cat Sam Luchow, battling himself against a mirror."
2 reviews
Currently reading
July 31, 2007
i'll fill this part in with my own words once i'm finished. in the meantime, here's a product summary from buy.com:

Set in Texas, The Gay Place consists of three interlocking novels, each with a different protagonist— a member of the state legislature, the state's junior senator, and the governor's press secretary. The governor himself, Arthur Fenstemaker, a master politician, infinitely canny and seductive, remains the dominant figure throughout.
Billy Lee Brammer— who served on Lyndon Johnson's staff— gives us here "the excitement of a political carnival: the sideshows, the freaks, and the ghoulish comedy atmosphere" (Saturday Review).

Originally published in 1961, The Gay Place is at once a cult classic and a major American novel.
14 reviews10 followers
February 16, 2010
This book, written by one of LBJ's top aides from his time in the Texas Legislature and US Congress, imagines LBJ as the governor of Texas. It's one of the best political novels of all time. Brammer offers sharp insights into both politics and life. He also paints a vivid picture of LBJ as a man and a leader. Anyone who's lived or lives in Austin will be especially interested in the book as it describes the city as it was in the early 1960s. A must read, underappreciated book that deserves a place on "best of" lists.
47 reviews
April 12, 2008
This is the grandaddy of all Austin-lit, and practically required reading here. Billy Lee Brammer was an LBJ staffer, but his boss never spoke to him again after The Gay Place came out. It's about life around the Texas Capitol, and it hits all the good 'ol boy themes. The booze, the women and the foul language keep it interesting, and it's actually 3 separate stories so it's not as intimidating as it looks(over 500 pages).
6 reviews
May 1, 2009
Really nice read. I you like Texas politics and a little taste of Austin and The Hill country in the late fifties, this is a must read. Written in light style, it is made up of three novellas centered around a central character, Texas Governor Arthur Fenstemaker, said to be based on LBJ. It's not just about politics, it's about love, lust, loss, and scandal. I wish Billy Lee Brammer had been more prolific, he was a very promising author.
59 reviews2 followers
April 10, 2008
Often mentioned here, in Austin, Texas, as being the quintessential historical representation of modern Texas politics. It's not nearly as dry as that sounds, since modern Texas politics can be fascinating; The Gay Place is so well-crafted it would be worth reading just for the novel aspect.
Profile Image for Patrick O'Connor.
6 reviews5 followers
March 14, 2008
Interesting character insight into LBJ if you believe Fenstemaker was based on Johnson. The three stories are woven together exceptionally well, and it still really captures the spirit of Austin, Texas.
Profile Image for Cindy Huyser.
Author 8 books2 followers
September 3, 2009
This book is vivid and very well-written. It was, in fact, a bit hard to read at first for those very reasons. But it's a real classic, full of color and verve. Made me a bit more aware of / cynical about politics.
Profile Image for Blanca.
169 reviews24 followers
May 4, 2007
Make sure to read the edition with the brilliant introduction by Don Graham.
69 reviews3 followers
July 9, 2007
Best novel on American politics bar none. Brammer was a press secretary for LBJ in the 1950s, so he knew very well what he was writing about.
Profile Image for Erik.
37 reviews
February 24, 2008
This is essential reading for anybody interested in American politics/society. Sort of like watching The Wire in the 1950s.
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