John Glynn’s memoir charts a summer spent in the Long Island resort town of Montauk in his late twenties, living in a share house with a rotating menagerie of finance bros, gay party animals and young women who could be models (but are studying for the CPA). By and large they are white, privileged twentysomethings, who all live in Manhattan.
John thinks of himself as straight but soon develops a crush on another guy spending his weekends in The Hive, as they call their frat-house-on-the-sea. John and his newfound preppy friends spend their days drinking (sometimes starting at breakfast, often passing out from the effort), playing beer pong and hanging out at the bar or the beach or the beach bar. They wear brand apparel (there are more brands listed than in American Psycho) and listen to mainstream dance music (which doesn’t age well: one anthem meant to crystalize the joyful abandon of their hedonistic experience is now a KFC jingle).
John is sad because he’s lonely and because his grandma died. Both, of course, are good reasons to be sad, but there is no ‘fatal flaw’ here that might hint at tragedy, just low-wattage Millennial angst burning bright against a dim backdrop of superficial pursuits. But then the author admits that to him and his house mates, “minor vexations and true hardships were one and the same.”
Are you still reading? Perhaps you belong to the 1% and are keen to see your life finally reflected in print? Or perhaps you don’t and you think, as I did, that this is a great set up for blistering social commentary on the contemporary mores of a crumbling late-capitalist empire, or at the very least, for a slasher-horror bloodbath.
If you’re feeling generous, you’ll stay, as I did, because coming out is never easy (even when you’re a good-looking cis-gendered white Manhattanite with a supportive family), and these transitions from self-doubt to self-knowledge should be documented and shared. After all, I believe coming out is a life-long process and there’s much to learn, still, always, from the experience of others.
Chances are you’ll be disappointed. If John and his buddies were 17, his slight journey of self-discovery might have seemed more consequential and compelling. But he’s ten years older than that and shares a house with a gaggle of gays who are out and proud: it seems the only reason it takes him so long to discover his own sexual identity is that he’s just too hung over to think, dammit.
While the author does briefly acknowledge his privilege, he does not use that self-awareness to portray the non-events of that summer through a critical lens. Instead, entire passages read like Airbnb advertorials, TripAdvisor reviews and someone describing Tommy Hilfiger magazine ads with drunken earnestness.
(If I’m being harsh, it’s probably because as a privileged white writer, I wrestle with this stuff myself. “Write what you know” is the advice that new authors are most often given, with good reason. That’s probably why it took me decades to even think about writing. That ambivalence is still hard to shake.)
To be fair, Out East has its share of insightful observations. Montauk is vividly rendered, and even without the bite of satire, Glynn does deftly capture a certain American milieu and moment in our recent past. It’s well written and some moments are genuinely touching or clever.
I particularly loved the verbatim reproduction of the share house contract, which in carefully worded clauses reveals the excess and dramas that might have occurred in previous summers, cleverly setting up the scene for the season to come.
The more we know the deeper we write, and we all must start somewhere after all – it may as well be from a place of authenticity and lived experience. As a memoir, this never feels less than truthful. While I found it hard to connect with this particular material, there's obviously considerable talent at work here and I'm actually quite curious to read what John Glynn writes next.