Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
by Eleanor Lerner
The Permanent Press
288 pages, ISBN 978-1-57962-383-8
reviewed by Toby Johnson
I really liked this book. And thoroughly enjoyed the compelling quality of the read.
With Radiomen, poet and novelist Eleanor Lerman has written another roman-a-clef-style novel that swiftly pulls the reader into its quasi-historical, magical, surrealist world. Lerman is author of Janet Planet which I previously reviewed quite favorably. I liked that book too. It was also about the mysterious side of reality. Janet Planet was an imaginary history of what might have happened in the life of the real world writer Carlos Castenada, the Hispanic ethnologist who supposedly met and studied with a Yaqui Indian shaman and psychedelic guide named Don Juan. Don Juan and Castenada became major characters in the psychedelic cult of the 1970s. It was never clear what was real and what was fictional in Castenada’s series of books or what really happened to him and his three wives who disappeared without a trace following his death in 1998.
Radiomen, set a few months after the 9/11 collapse of the World Trade Towers with flashbacks to the 1960s, similarly, imagines how and why a character, modeled on L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, might have been inspired—and compelled—to create a modern, sci-fi like, religion, one with a cult-following, rumors of coersion, mistreatment and defrauding of believers, AND great popularity in Hollywood including even a certain easily recognized actor. But the story isn’t about the good or bad side/truth or falsity of “Blue Awareness,” as the religion is called in the novel, but about the quest for contact with alien visitors which might have driven Howard Gilmartin, founder of Blue Awareness, and his son Raymond, into the world-changing role as prophet, seeker of the secret history of the universe, and possible con-man and crook.
Radiomen is told in the first person of Laurie Perzin, a middle-aged woman working as a bartender at Kennedy Airport in Queens. A lot of the book—peculiarly perhaps or maybe very appropriately—involves accounts of Laurie’s travels around Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, by train, by subway, by black-market unlicensed taxi, by car, by foot. She’s always on the move.
The narrative voice is a little bored and tired and a little desperate and insistent. From the very start I found myself pulled into the mystery behind the curious event which starts her hero-journey, wondering why she was so reluctant and blasť about something that seemed so important and interesting. She calls in to the late night radio program of a new-age, fringe phenomena enthusiast, talk-show host modeled on the real life Art Bell, and out of the blue is told by his guest, a clairvoyant psychic (and, we’ll learn, a member of the Blue Awareness inner circle), about an event in her childhood she’s always remembered with a certain skepticism and a certain dread.
It turns out to be characteristic of the narrator that instead of engaging the psychic on the radio and finding out what this strange revelation is about, she shuts down and denies that she recognizes the memory. Why? What was that event?
Throughout the novel, Laurie seems to have to be pushed, practically kicking and screaming, into each next step in the unfolding discovery that her favorite uncle, Avi Perzin, who’d been an amateur ham radio operator in the mid-20th century, with his home-built radio had made some kind of contact with aliens. It turns out that the uncle had also been involved with Howard Gilmartin and the start of the Blue Awareness cult. And, now that they know she’s out there because she called the guest psychic, that Blue Awareness inner circle gets quite interested in what pieces of radio equipment Avi Perzin just might have left to his niece.
Laurie Perzin’s resistance to the hero journey suddenly splayed out before her just made me more curious and compelled to keep reading. I, the reader, too felt that sense of dread yet couldn’t put the book down because I had to know what this was about.
What it’s about is interstellar communication, late night radio, fringe phenomena, contact with extraterrestrials, their visit to the Dogon People of West Central Africa and a breed of dog they left behind, Blue Awareness/Scientology as a vehicle for wisdom and secret knowledge, a cosmic version of a world-wide-web transmitting messages out into the “Wild Blue Yonder,” and, very importantly, what the aliens’ think about God.
The main character’s journey then, in a way, is to find God, or at least to discover what’s behind the human—and alien—quest for connection to the mystery that’s mythologized as “God.” At the end, Laurie seems to have overcome her resistance and found a kind of meaning for her life.
That’s everybody’s goal, of course. Everybody’s life can be just a series of days and weeks and years to get through—trips across town. OR, if one wakens to the mystery and allure of a deeper and wider consciousness that transcends that quotidian existence, then you can get more…
That’s the punch line of the book: “What did I want? I wanted more.”
There actually is a “punch line” in the plot, a climactic moment when Laurie is actually graced with a vision of the alien “radioman” and the realization of what it is they’re broadcasting through this cosmos-wide-web. And though that punch line is actually given away in the descriptive blurb on the cover, it’s a thrill to get to it in the course of the reading.
“God,” space aliens, mystical knowledge, the secret of the universe, an alien breed of dogs, the true meaning of religion—what more could you ask for from a novel. It’s all very understated; the protagonist is always reluctant and always a little bored and distracted, but in the end she gets the vision, she gets mystery, she discovers her life in the greater, grander scheme of things. AND she gets to keep the dog.
UFOs and alien abduction certainly are a focal point for wonder these days, a kind of quasi-scientific mythology about the nature of the greater cosmos. This book is a contribution to that crucial discussion of our time.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
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