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Issue 13, October-December 2011
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
If You Knew Then What I Know Now by Ryan Van Meter
(Sarabande, April 2011)
Reviewed by Malena Carollo

Ryan Van Meter’s If You Knew Then What I Know Now is an introspective memoir of Van Meter’s acquaintance and acceptance of his homosexuality. Through a collection of essays, Van Meter recounts events throughout his life that add up to his understanding of himself and that, ultimately, help to shape him into the person he is today. 

Though the dedication for the book reads “to my parents,” the reader catches a glimpse of the difficult challenges ahead when, during the opening essay, Van Meter’s mother scolds him for innocently asking a childhood friend, Ben, to marry him. “You shouldn’t have done that,” she {says.} “Boys don’t marry other boys. Only boys and girls get married to each other.”

In each essay, Van Meter provides insights about growing up gay, and how the perceptions and attitudes of others affect him. One issue he addresses is growing up with the term “faggot.” Reminiscent of Middlesex, the essay, “To Bear, To Carry: Notes on ‘Faggot,” recounts Van Meter’s struggle and mild obsession with searching the etymology of “faggot,” attempting to find in black and white that “faggot” is unequivocally “gay.” 

Though some situations in the memoir involve intense emotion for Van Meter, a lack of sensory details regarding his feelings creates distance between the reader and the intended emotion, as if the reader must remain that helpless fly on the wall, watching a scene unfold. While the reader might not experience every knotted stomach or chest pang surely experienced by Van Meter, his message is not lost. By the end of the memoir, however, the reader has no doubt developed an empathetic relationship with Van Meter and certainly a broader understanding for the intensely human side of being gay. 

Malena Carollo, from Lake Forest, Calif., is a sophomore at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is majoring in international relations and creative writing. She is the assistant entertainment editor for the college's award-winning, nationally recognized newspaper, The Current.
Order If You Knew Then What I Know Now from your favorite Indie Bookseller