Gay memoir about flamboyant mom should resonate with Texas readers
Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir by Jamie Brickhouse (St. Martin’s Press 2015 $26; 288 pp).
Jamie Brickhouse “had no business being a child.” Then again, he never was a child, really. Starting at age 5 (an age his mother wished she could freeze him, Peter-Pan-style), he was his Mama Jean’s sounding board, fashion advisor and cheering squad. He recalls the fascination of seeing her put on make-up; his days were spent watching her sew and going to downtown Beaumont, Texas, to shop and visit the beauty parlor. He also dimly recalls his first drink around that time.
Though his mother warned him that others would never love him like she did, his first grade teacher came close. Brickhouse adored that woman, who shared school gossip with him and invited him into her home. Later, after a playground friend became his “first boyfriend,” that same teacher warned Brickhouse that the boy was a “sissy.”
By junior high, he realized that he was, too, but since Mama Jean had had a fit when Brickhouse’s older gay brother came out and had offered a psychiatrist to Brickhouse if he was “like that,” Brickhouse denied his sexuality. Years later, he also denied his HIV status to her, just like he denied his alcoholism.
From the time he was a toddler, Brickhouse had been obsessed with sex. His love of drink also came early and the two intersected when he went to college. Even after he found the love of his life, he couldn’t let go of either vice: many nights after work as a book publicist, he drank until he could barely function and often woke up in the arms and homes of strangers. His boyfriend knew what was going on. Brickhouse hoped Mama Jean never would.
For some reason, I’ve been awash in mother-and-gay-son memoirs lately. Dangerous When Wet is the newest one, and only a little different than the others. Brickhouse is a funny guy, but the books has more charm than actual laughs. That may be due to the fact his thumb-sucking, profane, force-to-be-reckoned-with Mama Jean is ultimately like so many other moms: an exasperating reason for eye-rolls to their children, but adorable to others.
The small bit of humor lies with her antics, at any rate. The alcoholism, the black-outs, the promiscuity: not so much. This book is worth a try. I enjoyed it enough, but if you’re drowning in similar memoirs, too, you could just as easily skip it. Dangerous When Wet may not make a huge splash, but it’s not a drought of entertainment, either.
A Matter of Breeding by Michael Brandow (Beacon Press 2015 $18; 288 pp.).
An outraged rant against dog shows, the pedigree industry, breeders and owners of purebred dogs, this screed feels incessant, which can overwhelm and even numb the reader. It also can detract from the book’s main point. But while it’s not easy reading, this book is worthwhile for dog lovers. Just beware: It could start a few arguments, too. Depending on where you sit, with mutt or unmix, it could land someone in the doghouse.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 8, 2015.