A 1980s Gay Boy and his Jewish Bubbes


In Alvin Orloff’s novel Gutterboyswritten in 2004, but set in the punk fever of the early 1980s—Jeremy Rabinowitz is a shy 19-year-old Jewish kid desperate to fit in with the gay Manhattan avant-garde….or to just find a boyfriend who’ll love him forever. Unfortunately, the best he can manage is to sneak into dance clubs with his (regrettably female) best friend, Lizzie, the lead singer of a New Wave band.

Gutterboys has all the workings of a standard fish-out-of-water story, but for a single supernatural element. Watching over him, and constantly manifesting on his shoulders, are the ghosts of Jeremy’s two Jewish grandmothers: Gramma Bea is a proper Englishwoman. Meanwhile, Nana Leah is a fiercely traditional Russian Communist babushka. Each has her own hangups: Leah has issues with Jeremy’s budding homosexuality, and Bea lectures Jeremy on his punk lifestyle: “Your behavior last night was atrocious. Really, drinking straight out of the bottle!”

Jeremy’s quests prove fruitless almost without exception, but there’s an honest joy in watching him endure them, strengthening his shell and growing as a person. In the almost-entirely male world of gay Manhattan, Jeremy’s strongest friendships, and his most enduring ones, are with the women in his life.

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