Kudos to loveyoudivine Alterotica for re-releasing Dirk Vanden's "All" trilogy: "I Want It All", "All Or Nothing" and "All is Well" in one combined book. The three stories stand alone, each told from the first person viewpoint of a different character, however common characters and a couple of common events link them together. The first version was released before the Stonewall Riots, and to quote Dirk: "My books weren't considered worthy of editing when they were first published.... We were lucky just to get the books published and to get a few bucks for an outright sale." Drugs feature unapologetically strongly throughout. Both the upside - the euphoric feeling that you had all the answers, understood the essence of life and the universe and then the downside as reality stabbed euphoria in the back and painted black shadows around everything. Apparently, one publisher wanted Dirk to "apologise" for all the drug use in his books, but as he explained it to me in an email: "We were illegal, immoral perverts in those days and anything we could do to our heads to keep from thinking how terrible we were just to have sex with each other and how even more terrible we were to write about it. As a result, I tried marijuana, mescaline and LSD and discovered that they "opened doors in my mind. Drug use in Gay bars in the 60s and 70s was as common as beer and cigarettes, and, of course, like nicotine, and alcohol, the drugs were addictive." The books are set solidly in the late sixties, early seventies, an era famous for its music, its hippies and its drug taking, but still a time when homosexuality was illegal in most States. The times they were a-changing though. Chuck, the son of the last book's protagonist, sees it as a time when sex was not a big deal, and who you did it with was almost irrelevant. In each story, a man who always thought of himself as straight, discovers he is happier being gay. Remember that in those days, this was a fate considered far worse than death. Those who identified as such were hounded by the law, consigned to the depths of hell by religion, rejected by family and rebuffed by their peers. Making an apology is another theme in common. The viewpoint character has to acknowledge and seek forgiveness for a hurtful act. Until this is done, the character can never find peace within himself. So let's get into the stories themselves. If the concept of golden showers and other such things turns you off, don't read this trilogy. If you don't like learning about what it was like to be gay back in the 1970's, don't read this trilogy. If politically incorrect sections like this:"Gay guys are the most bewildering people on earth! One minute they can be so damned pleasant--and then turn right around and be the bitchiest bastards you've ever seen. It's like they all had split-personalities! (I kept remembering that kid I'd picked up in Nevada, and the Jekyl-Hyde thing that happened to him.) I don't know--it's like gay guys live on a tightrope or something; you never know what's going to set them off! Like--a guy would come in and order his drink, and usually he'd be smiling and happy, saying "hi" to everyone--and he'd pick out a spot to stand and display himself and cruise; but then, maybe half an hour later, you'd hear him snapping at people, swearing--or go storming out, shoving people out of his way! And who knows what the hell happened? Maybe he cruised someone and got turned down--or maybe he thought things weren't happening fast enough--or got hungup thinking nobody wanted him! Or, you're down at one end of the bar and a guy wants to talk--and someone else goes down to the other end, wanting a drink--and no matter what you do then, you're wrong; they act like you're insulting them both by not being in two places at once! Or if you're out of the one kind of beer a guy likes, it's like you've said something against his mother!" offends your sensibilities don't read these stories. If reading about rape upsets you - again don't start reading. While there is a "Happy Ever After" for each, if you're looking for a sweet m/m romance, don't read "All Together". Are you getting the picture, yet? However, if you want an honest, no-holds-barred look at the scene back then, check it out. The background is painted around a basic plot of what happens to three different "straight" men involved in the rape of a gay man passing through town. The second story, "All or Nothing", runs in parallel to "I Want it All". The first chapters cover the same territory but it's seen from a different point of view. Being a painter himself, Dirk has a very observant eye. He remarked to me in an email: "My head works differently somehow. I see "more" than other people. I don't know what that means. I've always thought of it as "paying attention."Here's an example:"They were all fascinating to watch--the way most of them tried to look so casual; they really worked at it, leaning against the wall, or the bar, or the pool table in the alcove, in just the right stray gleam of light to show off their "baskets." (I learned many new words that night.) They were posing in every sense of the word--some of them not just for a possible "trick" but for themselves; I got the feeling that if anything happened to disturb the pose, they wouldn't be able to function until they got back into it." Once again, he is also not afraid to make some statements about being gay and what it means:"At any rate, I learned that night that there were almost as many "types" as there were gay men. Apparently something had changed since I'd first heard about "fairies.""and remember this was written back in the seventies. Dirk, via his character, has some interesting takes on marriage too:"Maybe someday the laws and ideas about marriage will change also, and when that happens, maybe it won't be impossible to have both a wife and a family and a male lover-friend, all at the same time."and earlier in a description that parallels his own relationship with his partner who died in the AIDS epidemic."Gay marriages just don't work, Bill. The only ones that do are where they're not really lovers, you know? Not in the sense of a husband and wife at least. They're friends. Each one does his own thing for sex, but they live together as friends."This is backed up by his thoughts about why the character's marriage didn't work:"(the) part of the female personality that, to me, made females unattractive--a blind preoccupation with two people getting together in a "marriage" and devoting their entire lives to it."In his recent interview on Lambda Literary, http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/08/10/dirk-vanden-pioneer-of-gay-literature/ Dirk commented that he wrote the stories to say: "It's okay to be Gay!" "There are those who believe that Gay Liberation started at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. That is like believing that a flower can blossom without having been planted." Most of Richard (Amory)'s and my books were published before Stonewall. I would like to think that all those Gay dirty books were the fertilizer to make the Gay flowers grow." "All is Well", the final story in the trilogy is different. It's a lot more cerebral for a start. A lot of the "action" takes place inside the hero, Bob's, head. Being the son of a Mormon Minister, for Bob, religion played a large part in his upbringing. I've read two other books that use this religion as part of the plot: James Buchanan's "Hard Fall" and Z.A.Maxfield's "The Pharaoh's Concubine". While these two authors may have done meticulous research, they don't capture that overwhelming feeling of guilt and stultifying constriction of attitudes and beliefs that Dirk conveys so well, having been brought up a Mormon himself. The trilogy as a whole is uncompromising; "All Together" is by no means an easy read, but worth it in the end. Dirk's writing makes you care even when the guys are at their worst, wallowing in their misery (particularly the last story). You just want Bob to break out of his funk. I'm not a fan of paranormal, and this is a good example of what you can do without resorting to that level of fantasy. We all have the capacity to do these things ourselves. Be the strong invincible vampire, the werewolf that can change to a form that can vanquish its enemies and we can all harbor the demon from hell within. In some ways, "All is Well" covers the steps of the archetypal hero's journey, complete with the wrong goal, the black moment and the mentor (in this case drugs). As in all such journeys, the hero has to reach deep inside himself to find the solution to his predicament and confront his worst fears in doing so:"I had created the problems myself, however childish or ill-advised I had been, and now I had to solve those problems myself."I don't know whether this was intentional on Dirk's part - to follow Joseph Campbell's prescription, but there are definitely elements there. There's even the symbolism of the epiphany happening on Easter Sunday when the hero leaves his past behind and is reborn, complete with the biblically significant three day turnaround from the time he leaves San Francisco and returns. None of these literary elements intrude on the narrative. Many readers may not even see the story at this level, but I enjoyed "All is Well" that much more after I recognised what had happened. Another theme that ran through this story was:"I had to keep an open mind, adjust myself to the changes in the world."The world was definitely a-changing. Another book that came to mind as I read was Andrew Holleran's The Beauty of Men. Set in the nineties, after AIDS had decimated the gay population, the different scenes in steam baths bear comparison. Although there are two very different establishments in "All is Well" neither have that pathetic lost quality that imbues Holleran's classic. In Dirk Vanden's time:"Here there were dozens of men wandering around, most of them young, and many of them very attractive, manly-looking, well-muscled, with white towels narrowly wrapped around trim tanned waists. One or two I saw were clean-shaven and short haired, but most of them had long hair, moustaches, sideburns, many with full luxuriant beards.While in Holleran's book, the middle-aged Lark describes it thus:Driving to the baths in 1983 was like going to Valhalla, he thinks as he walks down the hall. Going to the baths in 1995 is like driving to have his tires rotated and oil changed.In the end, the title of the last segment of the trilogy takes on a new triple-edged meaning as the different worlds collide and become one. Not only do the three characters come together, but for Bob, the hero of "All is Well", "all" the facets of his personality converge as well. Very neatly done. There is almost a messianic fervor in the closing pages. The certainty hippies had in the seventies that a New Age was coming: The Age of Aquarius. Forty years on we can see that unfortunately the Roberts of the world didn't quite lose their grip. And while the Bobs may no longer be jailed for their sexuality, there is still room for more change to happen. Dirk's writing style is fluid, his dialogue natural and his characters are vivid. It's great to see the trilogy, re-edited to tidy up a few problems and published with a great new cover based on one of Dirk's own paintings. Again, congrats to loveyoudivine Alterotica for recognising what should be seen as one of the building blocks of gay fiction.