One of These Things First by Steven Gaines

genre: MEMOIR | pages: 272

My rating: ★★★★

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Memoirs have never been a favourite of mine, so I went into One of These Things First expecting a somewhat tedious time. As it turns out, Steven Gaines’ story and writing style both fascinated and moved me.

‘I saw him fleetingly, no more than a slow camera pan as he passed in and out of frame, but I knew him so intimately from that moment that I can still smell the sun on the nape of his neck.’

It is a poignant and fairly dark read but with enough humour to offer a change a pace. The book has been compared to Girl, Interrupted   although Girl was far darker and more intense than this.

The book is fairly short but the story itself spans much of the author’s life, with the central focus on his fifteen-year-old self, leading up to, and during, his time at a psychiatric clinic. His struggle with who he is and how he is perceived is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The tone of the book is conversational as he recounts his memories and experience, but with such acute attention to detail that it makes even the mundane seem interesting. It is written in such a way that his interest, mild obsession even, with Mr Halliday or Mary, becomes infectious. And I love how his description of the people in his world conjures a vivid image in the mind.

One of These Things First is a story that I’m sure took a massive amount of courage to write. Acceptance among family, communities, or within general society is difficult, especially at the time these events took place. Self-acceptance is often a doubly hard, never-ending battle, and I’m glad there is a hint of it at the end.

‘There were women I loved, but not completely. No matter how wonderful the women I romanced were, I was driven by nature and design to love a man more.’

 

one of these things first book cover

 

In March of 1962, the author, who was fifteen-years-old, managed to “escape the hawk-eyed scrutiny” of three saleswomen in whose care he’d been left, went to the back of his grandfather’s store, punched the glass pane out of a window and sawed his wrists and forearms on the shards of glass remaining in the frame. Narrowly avoiding death, he was hospitalised and, on the brink of being committed to a state hospital, begged his grandfather to bankroll a stay at the exclusive, private posh Payne Whitney located on Manhattan’s upper eastside. With self-confessed delusions of grandeur, Gaines, as a patient, comes to understand that his homosexuality is the underlying cause of his suicide attempt. While he undertakes conversion therapy with a young psychiatrist, he becomes the willing apprentices of various celebrities who are also patients at the hospital. With a rare mix of poignancy and humour, Gaines shows an uncanny ability to conjure up a rollicking narrative woven with great moments of insight, separating himself from other memoirists by his sheer ability to tell a story.