It takes a considerable talent and a hell of a lot of audacity to take a tale of the oldest taboo known to man and turn it into an innocently erotic romance that might have been written by Jane Austen if she were a homosexual man. But that is precisely what journalist and filmmaker Jerry Douglas has accomplished in his first novel, The Legend of the Ditto Twins.
The identical twin brothers of the title, Mark and Clark (whose last name we never learn) were born during the Reagan years on a dairy farm in the heartland of America. The first chapter of the book covers their rural childhood in a series of comic misadventures that establish the growing bonds between them as they hurtle toward puberty. Told in the first person by Mark, the more daring of the two, the narrative again and again puts a charming fresh face on their almost mythic existence, “a world away from the fast lane of modern life.” Here’s the way Mark explains it: “…we knew what computers were, but our family did not own one. We read about drugs and pornography but never came in contact with either. We often watched cows fuck but never gave much thought to how people did.”
Then puberty rears its alluring head, and they begin to explore the inevitable impulses of adolescence, much to the chagrin of their parents, both of whom are created in vivid detail, as are all of the supporting characters in the book. The mother seems inordinately concerned with what she considers the “unhealthy” relationship the twins are developing–she has more than a few issues and secrets of her own–and the discovery of a jar of Vaseline in the wrong place at the wrong time prompts her decision to separate the twins by sending Mark to live with her brother Clay in a city miles away.
“Perfect! That’s how I describe Jerry Douglas’s novel. Erotic and clever, page after page. Jerry has always been a master of telling a story and now he has taken his talent to a whole other level with this masterpiece.” — Chi Chi LaRue
That’s when The Legend of the Ditto Twins really kicks in, and the story finds its page-turning momentum. As richly as Mark and Clark are drawn (totally similar yet totally different, a literary feat in itself), it is the unconventional Uncle Clay, who is perhaps the most fully realized character in the book. From the moment he tells his young nephew, “You don’t know it yet, but I’m the best thing that ever happened to you,” he becomes a significant influence on the twins’ life as well as the driving force of the narrative. During the months that Mark–and eventually Clark–spend under his roof, he (like Auntie Mame) opens doors for them that they never dreamed existed. He and his daughter Lily (who works in an abortion clinic and has a thing for bisexual men) introduce the twins to a world vastly different from everything they have ever known, including disco dancing, video porn, full-length mirrors, a red ’57 Corvette, and most all, the lesson that maybe being different is not such a bad thing after all.
Clay, however, has issues and secrets of his own that must be resolved–and this leads the uncle and his two nephews to Berlin, which is arguably the most memorable portion of The Legend of the Ditto Twins. It is difficult to write about this section of the novel without a spoiler alert, but suffice it to say that among the life-changing events that occur in Berlin is the twins’ discovery of their innate exhibitionistic aptitude for modeling. Thus begins their love affair with the camera. In this chapter, Berlin is brought to throbbing life in plenty of you-are-there details and in the quirky characters they meet: an aging physique photographer at death’s door, an aggressive air line steward, and a world famous porn star working his way through college by making adult films. The sequence is at once poignantly moving and wryly funny.
It’s not long before the twins wander inevitably into the world of adult film making. Author Douglas obviously knows his way around a porn set, and his depiction of the milieu sparkles with on-the-set accuracy, capturing both the thrills and the madness of trying to capture sex on film. This is the “hottest” chapter of the novel, but it is also the most hilarious, inhabited by another set of memorable supporting characters: an expatriate filmmaker, a pair of naïve peasants wanting to become skin stars, and a reformed alcoholic cameraman whose sexuality is a mystery.
The final chapter deals with life after porn and culminates in a riveting sequence at a Millenium Gala where the twins are performing live onstage. The reader of this review should find out for himself what happens there on the night that one century becomes another and the twins find themselves on a collision course with the United States Supreme Court. It is an ideal but unexpected ending to The Legend of the Ditto Twins.
Stylishly written, ingeniously plotted, and inhabited by fully drawn characters, this first novel by Douglas makes for an impressive debut and will surely seduce the reader into hoping for a sequel.
About the author: Journalist Jerry Douglas has written Broadway plays and directed films for which he won several prizes. The Legend of the Ditto Twins is his first novel. Douglas attended Drake University and the Yale School of Drama. Among the Broadway and Off‐Broadway plays he has written and/or directed are Rondelay, Score, Tubstrip, and The Deep Throat Sex Scandal. Douglas lives in New York City, where he recently married his lover.