Metro Weekly

Novel Idea

Louis Harris' "32 Variations"


Louis Harris
(Photo by Michael Wichita)

“It’s like a 17th Street Tales of the City,” says Lambda Rising manager Jane Troxell when customers ask about the hot-selling 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington DC, a new novel by local author Louis Harris.

Although Troxell is a personal fan of the first-time novelist’s work, which puts a humorous spin on the lives and loves of a group of gay friends, she rarely has to offer more of an endorsement. “Everyone wants to read about their hometown,” she says.

Harris, a 42-year-old Michigan native who’s lived in Washington since 1984, based 32 Variations on a particularly evocative period: the federal government shutdown at the end of 1995, followed at the start of 1996 with a crippling blizzard — events that, compounded with city services already in shambles under the Marion Barry regime, left Washingtonians in an extended, uncertainty-filled limbo.

“It mirrored dysfunction I saw in the gay community,” Harris says, which inspired him to approach the novel in the musical style of theme and variation. “There’s a certain level of balance to the events, and deliberate cadences — all based on the nuances you’d hear in a Brahms piece or something like that.”

Harris, also a musician, originally tackled the theme and variation style while composing at the piano, but turned to writing a novel after his daily diary entries during the government shutdown period revealed an abundance of colorful source material. Landmarks such as the late Pop Stop Café — re-christened the Hop Scotch for the book — are easily recognizable, although Harris promises there are no thinly-veiled vendettas in the form of his characters.

“I’ll save that,” he jokes, “for the next novel.”

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!

Leave a Comment: