Book Review:
The Real Thing

Reviewed by Jim Drew
Originally published in OutNOW! (August 8, 1995)
Author: William Carney (1958, 1995)
Publisher: Richard Kasak Books
Publisher: 160 pp / $10.95
ISBN 1-56333-280-9


In Further Tales of the City (1982), Armistead Maupin described the then-current gay community through the mouth of Mouse, mentioning the stand-and-model mentality, the t-shirts with sexual slogans, the fake bikers and fake soldiers and fake lumberjacks.  What Maupin described is fully recognizable as the ancestor of today’s gay community.

In The Real Thing (1968), William Carney described the then-current S&M/leather scene through the letters of one of the Perfect, teaching his nephew about masters and slaves, the signals and the means of responding to them, the fake bikers and fake soldiers and fake lumberjacks.  What Carney described is fully recognizable as the ancestor (the Daddy? the Master?) of today’s leather community.

Over the course of a year’s worth of letters sent by an uncle to his nephew, Carney takes the reader through all levels of a leather lifestyle, starting at the lowest echelons — the Fetishists — through what he terms the three ranks: Purists, Exemplars, and Perfect — the untempted, the uncorrupted, and the incorruptible.  Through the uncle’s letters, the reader sees the growth of the nephew into a leather lifestyle, making mistakes and advances along the way.

A great deal of information useful to the novice leatherman is imparted along the way, of course, since the uncle is acting as a teacher.  This is not a pornographic novel, however; the information is less in the form of sexual instruction than it is in the whys and wherefores of leather interaction.  Chief among this is the concept that the ultimate goal of leather interaction — “The Real Thing” — is the interaction itself rather than merely reaching orgasm.  The means do not justify the ends; they are the ends.

The Real Thing is a difficult novel to get into, initially, largely because the theme of letters from a superior to an inferior is atypical today.  The superior tone of the uncle is a potential stumbling block to many readers, coming off patronizing, as is the one-sidedness of the narrative, lacking any direct response from the nephew.  On the other hand, since the narrator truly is superior — one of the Perfect, the incorruptible — any other tone would damage his credibility.  The lack of input from the nephew heightens the superiority of the uncle and creates tension in the later portions of the book as something goes wrong in the teaching, damaging the relationship, leading the uncle to commit exactly the failings he earlier warned against.  (Or does he commit them?)

Richard Kasak has made a splash recently by publishing (or republishing, as in this case) several books with erotic and/or leather content.  The Real Thing is perhaps the best such presentation yet.  Unfortunately, priced at $10.95, it is very expensive even for the value and entertainment it contains.

[This review is reprinted as it was originally written, in 1995 for a general gay newspaper audience, except for typo corrections.  I might not write it the same way today.  The final note about the price seems especially off now, in 2005.]


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