'The Sound of One Horse Dancing' by Tom Baker

Author: Tom Baker

Title: The Sound of One Horse Dancing

Publication: iUniverse, 201 pages, paper, 2011, ISBN 978-1-4620-5063-5, 'Before' and 14 Chapters, fiction.

Amazon link

This is a first novel by Tom Baker (link), who attended and graduated from William and Mary in the 1960s, shortly after my own experience. The novel seems to be based on Mr. Baker's experiences during his coming of age (and 'coming out'), at William and Mary, in the Army, at home in Connecticut, and as a fast rising advertising executive in New York in the 1970s, as well as personal matters up and down the range of the Kinsey Scale. It is written in the first person as Tim Halladay, and I don't know how close all or much of this is to 'historical truth' for Mr. Baker himself.

The novel establishes a couple of parallel hooks for the readers. In the beginning , Tim is suddenly fired from a job in an advertising agency after five years, the Friday before Thanksgiving, after an 'intimate' night that leads him to be late for work. Having lived on credit, he’s in immediate crisis, with almost no money. How will he survive and rise again? Mr. Baker develops his 'solution' by going back into the past with flashbacks, bringing up critical points in his life before.One of the most critical past episodes is his whole interview experience getting his first job, under considerable pressure from his father, even though he has just gotten out of the Army. He gets the job (at a shockingly low salary of $5200 a year, but this was around 1970), and also takes a gig helping a drama group in the City. His father is offended by his association with artists, and throws him out of the house.

This sounds like conventional 'homophobia', but it's a lot more. Patriarchal dads often express irrational beliefs about homosexuality (when I started visiting New York City myself in 1972 while living and working in New Jersey, my own father said, 'they’ll have you followed'), but this mindset belongs to a bigger problem, a need to have one’s sense of power and control over everyone else in one’s social unit (the nuclear family, even extending to adult children starting their own lives) to keep one's marriage alive, and to have one’s own family members on one's side in a larger social system of questionable moral legitimacy. Baker’s experience in the Army is interesting. He recreates the brutal atmosphere of the draft (which a lot of today’s young people are unaware of) and military culture, and of the 'unfairness' that put the burden of sacrifice for Vietnam on lower income classes. In my own experience, I found that the Army 'asked' about 'homosexual tendencies' in the 1964 physical, but had dropped the question when I retook the physical myself in 1966 and 1967 (when I passed). By 1968, the military, in practice, was actually trying not to reject men for the draft for homosexuality, because it didn’t want to allow such a ruse. Randy Shilts had documented as such in his 1993 St. Martin’s book, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military.Baker will have a table at the Rainbow Book Fair in New York City March 24, 2012.