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Publisher's Summary

From New York Times best-selling author Steven Gaines comes a wry and touching memoir of his trials as a gay teen at the famed Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic.

One of These Things First is a poignant reminiscence of a 15-year-old gay Jewish boy's unexpected trajectory from a life behind a rack of dresses in his grandmother's Brooklyn bra-and-girdle store to Manhattan's infamous Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, whose alumni includes writers, poets, and madmen as well as Marilyn Monroe and best-selling author Steven Gaines.

With a gimlet eye and a true gift for storytelling, Gaines captures his childhood shtetl in Brooklyn, and all its drama and secrets, like an Edward Hopper tableau: his philandering grandfather with his fleet of Cadillacs and Corvettes; a giant, empty movie theater, his portal to the outside world; a shirtless teenage boy pushing a lawnmower; and a pair of tormenting bullies whose taunts drive Gaines to a suicide attempt.

Gaines also takes the listener behind the walls of Payne Whitney - the "Harvard of psychiatric clinics", as Time magazine called it - populated by a captivating group of neurasthenics who affect his life in unexpected ways. The cast of characters includes a famous Broadway producer who becomes his unlikely mentor; an elegant woman who claims to be the ex-mistress of newly elected president John F. Kennedy; a snooty, suicidal architect; and a seductive young contessa. At the center of the story is a brilliant young psychiatrist who promises to cure a young boy of his homosexuality and give him the normalcy he so longs for.

For listeners who love stories of self-transformation, One of These Things First is a fascinating memoir in the vein of Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted and Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors. With its novelistic texture and unflagging narrative, this book is destined to become one of the great indelible works of the memoir genre.

©2016 Steven Gaines (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

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An Unlikely Subject for Me

I'm a straight female, not Jewish, not from New York and forgot how this book got in my wish list. However, I found Steven Gaines's story about growing up in Brooklyn and trying to deal with his homosexuality fascinating. I can't imagine anyone else other then him as narrator. The evolution of psychiatry, as it pertains to homosexuals, in the last 50 years is also interesting to observe.

95 of 97 people found this review helpful

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Loved it.

Picked this up on the Daily Deal. Had not expected to find it so interesting/enjoyable. One of my two favorite books this year - keep thinking about it. And the author reads it himself . . . always a bonus.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 09-26-18

Great Context Overshadows the Central Story

Stephen Gaines has a remarkable story to tell, and he has an engaging voice to tell it with.

As a teenager growing up in early 1960s Jewish Brooklyn, he has no clear idea how to deal with being gay and, in despair, tries to kill himself. As a consequence, he winds up in an upscale psychiatric hospital, one where Marilyn Monroe was recently treated. He’s essentially a child among assorted minor celebrities, a Jew among mostly WASPs, and a Brooklynite among the Manhattan elite. It’s a great fish-out-of-water experience, and the strongest part is unquestionably the color he sketches for the contrast.

The trouble here, as I see it, is that the context ultimately overwhelms the story. I’m a sucker for glimpses into that not-so-distant Jewish world, and Gaines delivers character studies of his neighbors and his bizarre family. (A highlight is his grandfather, a gentle man who seems irresistible to women. He has his wife, Gaines’s grandmother, his long-time paramour, who becomes the grandmother’s business partner and a key presence in raising him, and then he has his 40-years-younger final girlfriend with whom he mostly but not always lives in his final years.) He delivers as well in the vignettes around the people he meets in the hospital, most memorably the forgotten Broadway producer and theater reviewer Richard Halliday, a man best-known today as the second husband of actress Mary Martin. His stepson, actor Larry Hagman, hated him so much that he wrote in his own memoir about fantasies of killing him.

So the milieu is terrific and the characters memorable. They are so terrific that the central story, the place we begin, gets buried. Gaines is confused about how he feels and about how he should act on his feelings. He tries to kill himself by running his forearms through a glass window, and it’s heartbreaking. He’s skeptical of the treatments he receives in the hospital – a caring and thoughtful Freudian psychoanalyst thinks he can “cure” his homosexuality – but he does indeed become more aware of himself. The deeply troubled teen grows into a man whom I’d be happy to know, a man I get to know, in small part, through this book.

But we don’t get to hear the motivating story here. If it begins with the suicide attempt, the implication is we’ll learn how he came to grips with the crisis that precipitated it. Instead, Gaines’s story takes a backseat for most of this memoir to the characters he encounters. There’s a final chapter, one that feels almost disconnected from the rest of the book, when he catches us up on what’s followed, but it moves too quickly for real satisfaction.

I enjoyed this, but, to paraphrase its title, it feels as if he put several things ‘first,’ several things before the story he seemed initially to be telling.

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Wonderful

Loved this book! Laugh out loud funny at times and very touching and thoughtful. Perfect narration by the author.

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Fresh and Authentic

Like Gaines, I was born in 1946. I grew up (falsely) denying I was gay and hoping I could change. Gaines's clear-eyed and moving account of navigating adolescence in Brooklyn rings true. His concise and detail-packed memoir is very well written; listening to him read it underscores his lack of rancor toward his family and his analyst (who guided him in the effort at reorientation). This book was offered as a Daily Deal. I took a chance. I'm glad I did, and recommend it to anyone trying to figure out their place in the world.

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Rumbling memories put to pen

The author rumbles on and as a grown gay man can relate a lot to some of the memories and feelings the author expresses but this is not a great read nor is it inspirational to any other 15yo boy who may be considering his sexuality.

This is only the author putting his life to words and not passing any message on. I feel although he implies the message that all gay teens should hear he doesn’t say “It gets better” like it does.

The author also says he holds no real gay traits but gossips like a cheap periodical in a hairdresser so maybe that was a trait you missed Steven

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A story, reader and life that grows on you

It took me a while to become engaged with the story. I almost left it unfinished. I am so very glad I gave it more time, it has become one of my favorite audible books. The author/narrator was the key to my great enjoyment of this book.

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Pulls at your heartstrings

The background story of his life in a time where being different and the stuggles and difficulties he had to go through growing up.

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Unexpected, raw, and honest

I bought this book out of curiosity of how a young boy from a time that being gay was not ok and being Jewish meant being gay was not ok would deal these challenges. I was blown away by the honesty of the writer and his raw expressions of what he felt and how things really were. His families reactions to his behavior and the situations that occurred constantly made me pause and think.. what would I do.. what would any parent do...The honesty and the raw expression in this book had me start thinking what I am I reading and by the end I was impressed that the author had been so brave to write his story. I felt that this was a book that could inspire those who struggle. I would recommend it to anyone, but you have to have an open mind to make it through the first couple chapters because it is so intense. After that you are thinking how does this play out... how does his life turn out... Give it a chance.

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A MUST READ (hear)

Gaines delights in transporting listeners to the very bowels of his NYC past then catapults you into his hilarious and unique world of his stint at Payne Whitney mental hospital. His writing is chalk full of fantastic characters and lively discussions and revelations. Gaines reads this book and I couldnt imagine it any other way. He is a story teller! I got this on sale and honestly, I would have gladly paid full price for this work of art. There isn't a dull moment. A must get!

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  • Colin McIntosh
  • 08-14-16

Fascinating

This was such a fascinating book. Maybe for me as I had just finished a bio of Mary Martin and there is a lot re her vile husband but the whole story is enthralling and shocking that this all took place and the treatments. Highly recommend this as its such an honest raw account told with humour and honesty