The award-winning author of The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion traces the cultural upheavals of mid-century America through the life of Billy Lee Brammer, author of the classic political novel The Gay Place.
Acclaimed by critics as a second F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billy Lee Brammer was once one of the most engaging young novelists in America. “Brammer’s is a new and major talent, big in scope, big in its promise of even better things to come,” wrote A. C. Spectorsky, a former staffer at the New Yorker. When he published his first and only novel, The Gay Place, in 1961, literary luminaries such as David Halberstam, Willie Morris, and Gore Vidal hailed his debut. Morris deemed it “the best novel about American politics in our time.” Halberstam called it “a classic . . . [a] stunning, original, intensely human novel inspired by Lyndon Johnson. . . . It will be read a hundred years from now.” More recently, James Fallows, Gary Fisketjon, and Christopher Lehmann have affirmed The Gay Place’s continuing relevance, with Lehmann asserting that it is “the one truly great modern American political novel.”
Leaving the Gay Place tells a sweeping story of American popular culture and politics through the life and work of a writer who tragically exemplifies the highs and lows of the country at mid-century. Tracy Daugherty follows Brammer from the halls of power in Washington, DC, where he worked for Senate majority leader Johnson, to rock-and-roll venues where he tripped out with Janis Joplin, and ultimately to back alleys of self-indulgence and self-destruction. Constantly driven to experiment with new ways of being and creating—often fueled by psychedelics—Brammer became a cult figure for an America on the cusp of monumental change, as the counterculture percolated through the Eisenhower years and burst out in the sixties. In Daugherty’s masterful recounting, Brammer’s story is a quintessential American story, and Billy Lee is our wayward American son.
- Prologue: New Frontiers
- Part One: Rural Electrification
- Part Two: Electronic Noise
- Part Three: Electrical Violations
- Part Four: The Body Electric
- Epilogue: The Great Society
"The book is by turns a strong, clear biography (with shades of rock n roll memoir), a poetic ode to various places and people in midcentury Texas and an oral history, all of it plugging in to an increasingly turned-on, tuned-in and dropped-out Brammer."
“It is rare to find a biographer so temperamentally, intellectually, and even stylistically matched with his subject as Tracy Daugherty, author of well-received biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller, is matched with Joan Didion. . . . We feel that we are reading about Didion in precisely Didion’s terms. . . . It is warmly generous, laced with the ironic humor Didion and [John Gregory] Dunne famously cultivated.”
Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
“Tracy Daugherty gives us a meticulously researched biography of Didion that functions as both an exploration of late 20th-century American cultural values, as well as an incredible insight into the life of an extremely talented woman of letters.”
J. P. O’Malley, Salon.com
“[An] excellent and exhaustive book . . . [an] intrepid and meticulous biographer . . .”
Meghan Daum, Atlantic
“. . . intelligent and elegant . . .”
Louis Menand, New Yorker