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Living Upstairs By Joseph Hansen

It is Hollywood, Los Angeles, the year is 1943 and 19-year-old Nathan Reedís life is turned upside. Nathan, an innocent who has recently moved to Los Angeles, has everything changed when Hoyt Stubblefield ambles into his life. Within a week of their first meeting, in the Hollywood Boulevard bookshop where Nathan works, Nathan is living with Hoyt in the run-down, upstairs-roomed apartment were Hoyt lives, and sharing Hoytís bed.


This marks the start of a whole new life for Nathan, an adventurous roller coaster ride of experiences. Hoyt, an artist and painter, introduces him to a whole new world of ideas, books, music, painting and the underground world that was gay life in 1940ís Los Angeles. In his return, Nathan is pupil, model and lover. But this is no easy, romantic love-story. Hoyt is as mysterious and secretative as he is handsome and charming, leading Nathan into an increasingly more and more forte and confusing life.


Joseph Hansen is best known for his series of detective novels, featuring Dave Brandstetter (one of literatureís first openly gay detectives), but with Living Upstairs he again proves he is an accomplished novelist.


The central relationship, between Nathan and Hoyt, is drawn with sensitivity and care. This is Nathanís first relationship and Joseph Hansen perfectly captures that heady rush of lust and romance that so often makes-up our first love affair Ė in this case it is also all on Nathanís side.


This novel is also full of other extremely well drawn characters, the kind of characters that are not present in Hollywood films of the time or later. Joseph Hansen shows his ability to be able to capture his characters in one or two well-drawn paragraphs, so from the moment you meet them you recognise the person.


The atmosphere of this novel is very evocative of a very different time and place. Not just period detail, though there is plenty of that, but this novel also has a deep feeling for its time and place. Joseph Hansen knew this world well, the fringe world of 1940ís Hollywood, not just the underground homosexual world but also that of American communists and the poor on the fringes of tinsel town, and evokes it equally as well (the scene were Nathan and Hoyt, in a desperate bide to raise money, sell a pair of homoerotic paintings to a deeply closeted gay man is very telling).


The novel is written in the present tense and solely from Nathanís perspective. I know this style of writing is not to everyoneís tastes but I would suggest that you still persevere, because otherwise you might miss an excellent novel. This is Joseph Hansen at his very best and not to be missed.