Title: Galen’s Legacy (A Novel)
Author: Henry Alley
Publisher: Rattling Good Yarns Press, Cathedral City, California (2022)
Available locally: Tsunami Books, 2585 Willamette Street

By Daniel Buckwalter

The richly detailed artistry of author Henry Alley surfaces again in a new novel.

Alley, professor emeritus in literature at the University of Oregon, examines anew the full, textured and complex dimensions of gay characters, as well as family and other people who surround them, in a well written and well-received novel published this year, Galen’s Legacy.

This is Alley’s sixth novel, and since he came out as a gay man in 1985, the Eugene resident has steadily incorporated gays into his work with realism and tenderness, allowing the characters to explore emotional landscapes while trying to re-establish lives that were torn asunder.

I first encountered Alley’s work in 2019 with Men Touching, a novel about two adult men haltingly stepping into new lives together, one a recovering drug addict and the other a drama teacher, divorced, who had just come out.

Galen’s Legacy continues the trend as Galen Melville — a wonderfully named character with, perhaps, historical nods to Galen of Pergamon (a Greek physician and philosopher in the Roman Empire) and the great American novelist Herman Melville — serving as the protagonist of the novel.

The novel begins with Galen, openly gay and in his 40s, exiting prison in the mid-1990s after being unjustly convicted, then exonerated.

He returns to his Oregon hometown and the Vondel Hotel, an eccentric (to say the least) establishment operated by his Dutch family, which is a quirky bunch, to be sure.

There’s the remote mother and alcoholic father. There’s also the deceased and beloved uncle who fled Nazi Germany, who was himself gay and a father figure to Galen and is, perhaps, a ghostly presence in the mansion across the street that is bequeathed to Galen.

Galen wants to remake that mansion as a refuge for gays and lesbians, and part of that journey involves two gay men whom Galen hooks up with: Anton, the older landscaper, and Brent, the younger physical therapist.

It’s the journey to repair a broken past for all, and Alley does a masterful job of taking the reader to the mother’s renewed sense of her poetic vocation, the father’s sobriety and Anton’s liberation from the closet, all with clear, concise language that flows. It is a treat to read.

Besides the six novels, Alley also has had published a collection of short stories, The Dahlia Field, as well as literary articles in The Kenyon Review and other journals.