Gay rights activist Selena Winters is shot in the head while giving a speech at the Seattle Pride celebration. She is rushed to the hospital and a blood clot is removed from her brain. Family members gather to wait and see if she will ever regain consciousness. While Selena teeters on the edge of death, family conversations lead back to old conflicts and to memories of Marty's first wife, Maria, and his unreasonable obsession with her. The Wives of Marty Winters is a family saga covering half a century in the lives of Marty and his friends and family members.
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Alec Clayton Art and Writing
Gay rights activist Selena Winters is shot in the head while giving a speech at the Seattle Pride celebration. She is rushed to the hospital where a blood clot is removed from her brain. She slips into a coma, and family members gather to wait and see if she will ever regain consciousness. Selena's husband Marty; their transsexual housemateChloe, their daughter Marianne; their son William and his life partner, Jake.
Family conversations lead back to old conflicts and memories of Marty's first wife, Maria in the 1960's. Maria has two steps up on the sexual revolution, and she figures what Marty doesn't know about her other boyfriend won't hurt him. Their marriage comes to a suddenly end when she leaves him with no hint of where she may be. Marty's obsession with finding Maria leads him to another woman, one in a religious commune who goes by the name of Marigold but whose real name is Selena. He marries Selena and takes her back home, and they build what seems to be a happy and normal life ...
...until their son tells them he is gay and until Marty's old friend Chuck, an embittered Vietnam vet, comes back into his life, until they run into trouble with a neo-Nazi group known as The Nation, and finally until Maria returns.
Ah, those magic moments from high school days. We remember them forever. Watching Chuck hit a line drive between the third base and shortstop, skinny dipping at Ocean Shores, making out with Barbara King on the backseat of Aunt Lily’s Plymouth Fury — a stunning red convertible with its distinctive white stripe leading to those massive tailfins. The fashions, the mischief, the heroes we looked up to (Marty’s hero had always been Chuck, his best friend since grade school and a star athlete who moved on the field of action with the grace of a ballet dancer). Moments Marty could never forget included falling crazy in love with one girl after another; the regular Friday night makeout tussles at the drive-in on the road to Shelton, trying as hard as he could to unclasp Betty Brown’s bra or reach his hand up between Mary Robert’s thighs while she kept grabbing his hand and moving it away — crushingly kissing him all the while (some of the near-misses in the game of love being as memorable as his one conquest in the summer of fifty-nine); sweating math exams, writing a book report on Uncle Tom’s Cabin from a Classics Illustrated comic book; watching Jimmy Collins get fall-down drunk on a six-pack of Bud. But more than anything, it’s the music that defines the times — silly love songs played on those little 45rpm record players with the big holes in the center. Marty and Chuck and all their friends pretty much formed all their ideas about love from the hit songs of the day. And what passed for love in those songs usually boiled down to either terminal cuteness or to a profound longing that could never be fulfilled, neither of which, of course, had a damn thing to do with the reality of love.
If you ever heard it, how could you ever forget Johnnie Ray’s heart rending “Cry” or Julie London’s “Cry Me A River,” the yearning in Elvis’s voice when he pleaded with a lover, “Don’t say don’t” or the silliness of lines like: “I fell in love with you first time I looked into (pause) them there eyes” or “How can I tell them this is not a puppy love?” or “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck”?
Some of those songs were remnants from an earlier era, but radio station KLOY kept playing them anyway. Can you imagine singing lines like those to the love of your life? With a straight face? But that’s exactly what countless love-starved teens did back then. Marty and Maria, in the days shortly after their graduation dance, used to sing that bushel-and-a-peck song to each other while walking on the sidewalk by the Capitol Theatre or out by Big Bob’s Burgers, where they’d buy burgers and eat them in the park and wipe the juices off one another’s chins. Singing that song loudly and off key, they’d stop to kiss on the “pecks” and hug on the “hug-around-the-necks,” and then laugh with the shared joy of their own cleverness.
by J.R. Callner
I live in Olympia, WA, one of the venues for this novel. I read other books set here (like Jim Lynch's The Highest Tide) with a little apprehension, but both Lynch and Clayton's novels deliver the flavor of the community in pleasing and authentic fashion. Wives is easy to read, moves along with a collection of offbeat, imperfect characters rendered with unsentimental affection by an author who delivers time and place (and the changes of his characters through time) credibly and immediately. If you'd like a return trip to high school, the hippie days, and a journey through an unusual life somewhat accidentally lived, with quite a few laughs and some poignant loss, to boot, this is a great bet.
The Wives of Marty Winters
reviewed by Margaret S. Ward
The is the third of Alec Clayton's novels I have read; and while I can't say I always like his choice of topics, I do enjoy his writing style. His characters are vivid but above and beyond that, the settings are like scenes on a theater stage. He paints word pictures in all his work of something so simiple as a rustic roadhouse or as distasteful as hate crimes that can be so vivid the reader is compelled to read farther. No topic is taboo. His writing is candid. His outspoken characters passionately display what must be his personal convictions and in the midst of this, they are not devoid of a sometimes subtle humor in a well-placed situation or a simple pun. The Wives of Marty Winters is an escape from reality to reality and provides a venue for development of personal imagery. I encourage you to see for yourself.
Good characterization and detail
by L.E. Johnson
Alec Clayton's third novel is not quite up to the overall impact of his first, Until the Dawn, but it is filled with good characterization and honest, vivid detail. A little too politically correct in places, it nevertheless develops Marty's emotional and intellectual journey from the 1960s to the present with admirable candor and sometimes luminous humor. The novel confronts many of the social issues of the last 40 years, such as feminism, gay rights, and antiintellectualism with insight and conciliation but never becomes didactic. There's uninhibited sexuality here, as well as jealousy and emotional longing to sear the imagination. I recommend this book, especially if you enjoyed Until the Dawn.
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