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Retro Reading: Franny, the Queen of Provincetown by John Preston

Updated on October 13, 2019

Sometimes, there are such great works of fiction (or fact) that you can't get enough whenever you read or re-read them. This is one such book that is haunting even years later.

Written in a play type of format, we never get a clear description of the main character, Franny. We're told through the other characters' dialogue that he's "one of the ugliest drag queens" that has probably walked the earth. But he has a heart of gold which seems to attract many people.

The story begins with a lengthy monologue by Franny sometime in 1950. He tells us how he had stopped running away and learned to accept himself when he bought himself an angora sweater, which was the prettiest thing he had ever seen in his life. Later, he would soon meet others who also shared his desire.

After setting up the story, ten years later we're introduced to Isadora, a drag queen (who is quite successful considering and tours the country with her act) and the relationship that the two have. Franny works for Isadora as sort of an assistant and while in Chicago, they meet Jay, who becomes the love of Franny's life.

Jay discusses mental illness and how his family rejected him while he's pursuing a college education. He eventually moves to Boston where Franny takes him under his wing. While the two don't have a sexual relationship, Franny feels that it's his duty to protect Jay until the day he dies.

After a tragedy, we're briefly introduced to Joel, who was Franny's best friend in high school. Joel has met and fallen in love with Michael, a welder, and he and Franny don't see eye to eye. Joel tells us that he and Michael have started up a successful business and when they advertise for another welder, they meet Jim. Jim is obviously gay and Michael doesn't want him to work for the company. Franny sets him straight about discrimination and to think back at how many jobs he may have applied for, only to have his application thrown away and potential employers laughing at him.

As the story progresses, Franny moves to Provincetown where the locals avoid him and he eventually begins to make friends with those who spend their summers on there. Soon, he's welcomed by everyone.

During the 1960's Franny takes on various "boys" and molds them into what they want to be. He doesn't hold back when he talks to them and he makes sure that whatever their goal is they attain it.

The book ends in the early '80's before the AIDS crisis.

However, Preston, a victim himself, wanted to continue Franny's story and began a working draft, Franny, Isadora & The Angels which is added to the updated 1995 version of the book.

Preston died prior to finishing the sequel, and the editors found a way to incorporate the thirty plus pages into a story and again, using just dialogue, we're taken into the crisis itself and how it has effected Franny and "her boys."

There is no need for action in this book since the dialogue itself is extremely powerful and poignant throughout. The dialogue itself provides the action and sets up the scenes. In a way, it feels like you're watching a combination of a play and a documentary on Franny.

I'm sure you'll laugh, cry and become angry (which is probably what Franny would want you to do) but above all, it's a look into yourself and quite possibly your soul.

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