Title: I love You, Johnny Darling
SynopsisOn his first day at state university, freshman Johnny Darling rues his decision to enroll. He’s 150 miles from his family and friends and terribly homesick. But when he’s assigned Ben Stonecipher as a roommate, Johnny’s life brightens. Ben’s a handsome guy from a wealthy family, but he’s emotionally troubled, and for good reason. He’s responsible for his twin brother’s recent death.
A liquor-fueled night in the dorm room leads to personal confessions and intimacy. In the days that follow, an intense affair blossoms between Johnny and Ben, one that must weather the threat of a love triangle neither boy is prepared to deal with.
I first thing I noticed upon reading I Love You, Johnny Darling, is the beautiful tone set by Jere M Fishback's writing style. And what follows is not easy to describe.
Two college roommates meet and immediately form a bond. Ben's suffering from depression, blaming himself for his brother's death. Meanwhile, Johnny's hiding behind his secret that he's gay. They quickly become a couple and feel a deep love for each other.
Did I mention that it's 1969? The time period is wonderfully represented, with everything being perfectly atmospheric. One such example is the question of if it's even possible for two men to be in love. And I certainly found myself cringing about the lack of condoms, as this is right around when the AIDS epidemic started.
Everything changes when Ben visits his hometown and gets mixed up with his friend, Steve. Let the cheating, and the guilt begin. Personally, I found the cheating to be so sad and tough to read. I also find it to be more representative of the time period though. Remember, they were questioning if two guys could actually fall in love, since there were no, or few, out and proud couples at the time.
As the story continues, Johnny's struggling, straddling the line between two different worlds, one with his best friend from home, and the other with his roommate and best friend at school. He is so torn between Ben, who he loves, and Steve, who he never wants to say no to.
The blurb's mention of a love triangle isn't really accurate. It is more of a young man ruining his relationship by not being able to say no.
This story put me through the wringer, taking me on such an emotional ride. I was mad, I was angry, I was hopeful and I was disappointed. I found myself wanting to shake some sense into Johnny, and wanting to yell at Steve. And I hurt for Ben.
If you don't want to read about cheating, stay away from this one!
Overall, I am rating I Love You Johnny Darling with 5 stars. But I'm not even sure why. This Jere M Fishback book had me completely engrossed, on the edge of my seat, with me wanting to yell at the characters. To me, a book that can provoke that much emotion deserves a 5. However, I definitely don't love Johnny and he's never really redeemed in my eyes.
start, and I felt certain I was screwed.
room that resembled a prison cell: cinder-block walls painted taupe, asphalt
tile floor, two twin beds, two Formica bureaus, two metal desks with chairs,
and two closets. The showers and toilets were down the hall. Outside, a misty
rain fell from a sky the color of dishwater. Weak light entered the room
through a pair of casement windows framed by plastic drapes. The windows
offered a view of a parking lot and a row of dumpsters.
nor in the city of Gainesville where my school was located.
what good would it do? I put myself in the situation—I made the choice to come
there. Instead of staying at home and attending community college, I enrolled
at the University of Florida, and now it was too late to change my mind. My mom
had left me there two hours before—that was right after we unloaded my things
from her car—and by now, she was probably halfway back to St. Petersburg Beach.
nickname by the way. Darling is my legal name, and you can only imagine the
shit I’ve taken ever since I reached seventh grade, and guys started getting
cruel about qualities that made someone different in any way.
you’d love to.”
date? I’ll buy you a corsage.”
I could stop the taunts by slugging some guy who outweighed me by thirty
pounds. I’d never even thrown a punch—I wouldn’t have known how to—so all the
way through junior high and into early high school, I endured the crap.
that out the first time I viewed a television show called Flipper when I was
thirteen. The series starred a bottle-nosed dolphin and a sinewy blond boy
named Luke Halpin who frequently appeared shirtless in the show. Mostly he wore
only a skimpy pair of cutoff blue jeans. Luke had a washboard stomach,
shoulders that bulged like softballs, and a chest that looked like it was
carved from marble. The first time I saw him I grew so excited I thought I
might bust through the zipper on my shorts. After that, I never missed an
episode of Flipper during the three years it aired because—and I’ll freely
admit this—I was insanely in love with Luke Halpin. He became my go-to fantasy
whenever I lay in my bed at night and touched myself under the sheets.
in was not kind to faggots. The only way I could survive was to hide my urges
and pretend to be straight. That way, I wouldn’t get my teeth knocked out. My
sex life—and this was pathetic—was a tube of jelly and my right hand. In high
school, I actually went on dates with girls to the prom and all, but never felt
anything sexual when I held a girl’s hand or put my arm around her waist. Even
then, I knew marriage to a woman wasn’t going to work for me.
closest to the windows and wove my fingers behind my neck. I stared at the
plaster ceiling, then at a cobweb waving in one corner. My hang-up clothes were
stored in one of the room’s closets, while my folded clothes rested in a bureau.
My manual Olivetti typewriter—it weighed twenty pounds—hulked on the desk I’d
chosen to use.
so at least the room was climate-controlled. I’d heard some dorms on campus
didn’t even have air-conditioning and I figured the rooms in those buildings
must have felt like ovens right then, so I had something to be grateful for. I
wasn’t sweating and—
jerked in response. Who could it be?
hollered, “Come in.”
stood in the hallway, peering into my room. Two were a middle-aged couple. The
third was a slender guy my age. All three carried cardboard boxes.
Stonecipher, and I guess we’re roommates. Mind if we come in?”
Then I shook Ben’s hand after he put down his boxes. His grip felt firm and
the couple behind him. “These are my folks, Will and Sarah Stonecipher.”
a TV series: tall, with salt-and-pepper hair, a trim waist, and an easy smile.
He wore dress slacks, a Banlon shirt, and leather slip-ons.
hand. “Pleased to meet you, Johnny,” he said in a gentle baritone flavored with
a Florida drawl. Then he pointed at his son. “Don’t let that guy give you any
trouble this year, understand?”
and pursed her lips while shaking her head. Then she took my hand in hers. “You
shouldn’t listen a word my husband says,” she said with a grin on her pretty
face. Her prematurely gray hair was cut short like my mom’s, and she wore
minimal makeup. Her yellow sleeveless blouse, white capris, and sandals
flattered her slim figure.
just fine, as long as you don’t mind a little snoring,” she said.
after I released Sarah’s hand. “My mom drove me up here this morning.”
room. “We’re from Merritt Island, on the opposite coast. Ever been there?”
heard of Merritt Island.
your town,” Will said, “but it’s our home.”
retrieve more of Ben’s belongings. They returned with clothing on hangers, an
electric typewriter, a desk lamp, and a tennis racket in a wooden press, held
together with thumbscrews. When they finished hanging the clothes in Ben’s
closet, I felt a little embarrassed that Ben’s wardrobe was twice the size of
mine. He even owned a navy-blue sports jacket with brass buttons.
it was a houndstooth number my mom had bought at a church thrift store, and it
didn’t look good on me because the sleeves were too short.
player, a Magnavox model, along with an entire boxful of vinyl LP records. He
set up the player on a folding metal TV tray he’d brought. The player resembled
a small suitcase. When Ben opened it up, the player displayed two speakers and
on her hips, “I think that’s everything from the car. We have a three-hour
drive ahead of us, so I guess we’ll be going.”
and his dad shook hands; then Will shook mine too.
Johnny, and good luck in school.”
Sarah said to me.
Ben and I would even get to wherever Merritt Island was. Freshman at UF were
not allowed to have cars, so we wouldn’t have transportation. We would be, in a
sense, captives on campus for the year.
unpacking boxes. Some contained books; others held things like toiletries,
socks, underwear, and T-shirts.
standards, an inch or so taller than me, probably six feet, fair-skinned with
thick eyebrows, a turned-up nose, and full crimson lips. He parted his dark
hair on the side. His voice was deeper than mine, also flavored with a drawl
like his dad’s. He wore blue jeans, penny loafers, and a button-up shirt with
the shirttail untucked and the sleeves rolled to his elbows.
knuckle. “When I picked up my room key, the lady behind the desk said we’ll
need to get our sheets and towels from the linen room downstairs. They close at
wristwatch—a gold model with a band made from alligator hide. “I’ll be unpacked
in another half hour. Why don’t we go after that?”
on, the one closest to the door. “I’ll take that one if it’s okay with you.”
lamp on the desk I hadn’t selected, he fished a framed photo from a box and
placed it on his desk as well, a studio portrait of four people: Ben’s parents
and two boys who were dressed identical and looked like younger versions of
Ben, maybe age sixteen.
on his desk: a dictionary, a Bible, and what looked like a high school
yearbook. “I wonder if the food’s any good. I guess we can eat as much as we
want, so I hope it’s decent.”
him carry all his empty boxes down a stairwell, where we tossed them into one
of the dumpsters we had seen from our room. By now, the rain had stopped, and
Ben checked his wristwatch again.
like taking a walk around campus before we get our linens?”
morning is in a building called Peabody Hall. I checked a school map; it’s
located in the northeast part of campus. Let’s see if we can find it.”
campus, and the first buildings we passed were pretty austere, built of red
brick with awning-style windows and few architectural features. But everywhere
huge trees soared thirty or forty feet: longleaf pines, multi-trunked live oaks
festooned with Spanish moss, magnolias, sabal palms, and a Shumard oak with a
rutted trunk so wide two grown men couldn’t wrap their arms around it. The
sidewalk we trod on snaked through expanses of damp Bahia grass. Azalea and
camellia shrubs hugged the flanks of most buildings we encountered.
there to watch the moon-landing launch, back in July. The night before liftoff
we slept in my car in Titusville.”
Merritt Island, at its north end. Our property is close to the middle of the
island and a short drive from the Atlantic. My dad’s family has lived there since
the Civil War; we own citrus groves and also a beef cattle ranch. It was a
great place to grow up.”
cottage my mom had raised me and my sister in, and the fact I had no idea where
my father was or even if he was still alive. Clearly, Ben and I had come from
very different backgrounds.
worked at a gas station. Four nights a week, five hours per night, I pumped
gas, checked engine oil levels, fixed flat tires, and performed oil changes. I
drove a rusty Ford Fairlane to school, one I bought from a station customer for
a hundred bucks. My cuticles, the free edges of my fingernails, and the whorls
on the pads of my fingers all stayed perpetually black no matter how much I
scrubbed them with Lava soap. My beat-up work boots looked like I’d dunked them
in a grease vat, and the coveralls I wore to work were oil and sweat stained.
thought had he seen me back then. And what would he think of me in the days and
weeks ahead, when he learned I didn’t have a pedigree like his?
of campus, the buildings looked older and statelier, with mullioned windows and
pitched roofs rimmed by battlements. Some were covered in ivy. Peabody Hall was
a small building, really, just four stories with a gabled tile roof. Its
western flank faced a broad and grassy plaza shaded by longleaf pines.
realized it had taken us fifteen minutes to walk there from the dorm. My first
class the next morning was at 8:00, so I’d need to leave the dorm no later than
7:45, maybe 7:40 to be safe. I didn’t want to be late the first day of school,
now did I?
asked while he studied the buildings around us.
end tomorrow. What about you?”
last week to buy them from the campus bookstore, and get this: when I checked
out at the register, the cashier tried to sell me a beanie.”
that male freshmen are expected to wear their first quarter.”
a tradition here.”
so why invite that sort of treatment from guys? I have more respect for myself