Sixty-one year old William has spent a good portion of his life as a near recluse, taking sanctuary in the bookshop he opened in 1971, a mere couple of years after the Stonewall uprising that brought the gay rights movement out of the closet and into the social consciousness.
Having been passed over in the Vietnam draft because of his homosexuality, William’s father strongly urges him to leave their small Ohio town for New York City, where William might find others who are like him. It was the painful denial of father to son that helps to shape William’s isolation and reinforce his fears, but he made the move and eventually found his passion amongst the bricks and mortar and pages of his shop, where he carves out a small living space in the back.
Tommy is the young man who disrupts the quietude of William’s life. Going to school on the GI Bill that barely keeps him financially afloat, Tommy fosters a friendship with the much older William, connecting through the beauty of poetry and the love of the written word. Tommy and William forge an unlikely bond with each other, a friendship and a respect for each other that transcends their differences but for William also underlines them. How could a man forty years his junior—beautiful, intelligent, vibrant—possibly want to be with him? It is a culmination of all his doubts and repression that he has cultivated over the years that keep William from seeing the truth—that love cannot be defined or neatly compartmentalized into right or wrong.
Feeling as obsolete as the ink and paper books he surrounds himself with, William believes his love for Tommy could never be reciprocated; he believes that he is nothing more than a warm and comfortable place for Tommy to land when the young man needs the security and comfort William can offer. But, through the magic of words, Tommy opens up and attempts to show William how he truly feels, though sometimes words are not enough, and it’s the actions that must speak to the heart.
Flamingo is a beautifully understated story, intimate in its feelings rather than in actions. This is one of those stories that embraced me emotionally in a subtle way. Its quiet and simple message—that love is a risk, and that the real danger in life may come from never taking that risk—was shown through two characters I loved spending some time with.