The Mayor of Oak Street
Vincent Traughber Meis
NineStar Press (2021)
Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Reader Views (01/2022)
“The Mayor of Oak Street” is a compelling, character driven, coming-of-age novel you’ll be thinking about for a long time to come. The book focuses on a Boy Scout back in the 1960’s named Nathan; this young man discovers the local Dr. B participating in a sexual act with another man while his wife is away. This tryst turns tragic, and Dr. B has to leave the area.
When Nathan is older, he attends college in New Orleans, only to get involved with rebels, drugs, and the seedier side of life. This is how he loses his virginity to a charismatic man, but also how he meets up with Dr. B once again. Nathan would love to have a relationship with Dr. B, but the doctor is still in the closet and in a relationship. This drives Nathan into a whirlwind of promiscuity and amphetamine highs, landing him in the ER from an overdose. Dr. B knows Nathan is in desperate need of rehab and wants to help, but the road will be hard to maneuver. And if the story isn’t already irresistible enough, finding that it’s intertwined with the historic 1973 “UpStairs Lounge” arson attack that crushed the gay community in New Orleans, adds another layer of grit and realism. Nathan witnesses the atrocity, and after it, Dr. B’s boyfriend leaves, giving Nathan and Dr. B a chance to examine if a relationship between them is in the cards.
Meis has crafted a thoroughly engrossing story, using the backdrop of the historic fire, as well as the vibrant colors and emotions of New Orleans. The characters are so real you feel like they could walk off the page and start talking to you, and the historical facts given are both infuriating and heartbreaking.
The plot is well-developed and evenly paced, and you get a real slice-of-life feel for the era and culture being written about. This author shows the tragedies and triumphs of Nathan as he comes of age, but also balances it out with history and social issues. Nate is also intriguing; I like the well-rounded characterizations of Nate and the others, the conflicts and situations, and the lessons to be learned. Nate has a journey and a struggle, and the author invites you inside his heart and mind. Trigger warnings may apply, so be warned, but there is nothing exploitative, and one word that comes to mind while reading about the relationship is “desire.”
“The Mayor of Oak Street” is by no means a breezy, easy relationship novel; it’s a weighty, evocative one that makes for a great read.