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The Gay Place

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  362 ratings  ·  52 reviews
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. ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published March 1st 1995 by University of Texas Press (first published October 12th 1983)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  362 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Jeanette (Again)
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 politi ...more
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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, catchin
Dec 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: texana
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 a
Sharon Beers
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
A good rip-roaring novel of Texas politics.
Aaron Arnold
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
James Murphy
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 re
Geoff Sebesta
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Ray Grasshoff
Aug 21, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Mar 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2012-read

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 so
Michael Holm
Aug 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
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 aut ...more
Kathy Sebesta
Feb 18, 2016 rated it liked it
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 the
Feb 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dan Oko
Nov 09, 2007 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Frank Stein
Sep 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 John ...more
Boz Reacher
What an odd old book...
Mandy Jo
Sep 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: texas-themed
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 rep
Jul 31, 2007 is currently reading it
Recommends it for: political junkies
i'll fill this part in with my own words once i'm finished. in the meantime, here's a product summary from

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
Patrick Hickey
Feb 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 pla ...more
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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). ...more
Apr 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Feb 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Patrick O'Connor
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Cindy Huyser
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
May 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: texas
Make sure to read the edition with the brilliant introduction by Don Graham.
Jul 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is essential reading for anybody interested in American politics/society. Sort of like watching The Wire in the 1950s.
Aug 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant political portrait, easily on a par with All the King's Men. ...more
Jan 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
About Texas poiltics, culture and shenanigans (read: LBJ)in the 50-60's. I wasn't there but he makes it sound like god-damned good time. ...more
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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 ...more

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