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June 09, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE FRONT RUNNER by Patricia Nell Warren (Wildcat Press: 320 pp.; $12.95) and HARLAN'S RACE by Patricia Nell Warren (Wild Cat Press: 336 pp.; $12.95). Originally published in 1974, "The Front Runner" was a breakthrough gay novel, selling more than 10 million copies. The love story between Olympic runner Billy Sive and his coach, Harlan Brown, reflects the optimism of the early days of gay liberation, before Bowers vs. Hardwick, before "Don't ask, don't tell," before the rise of the religious right. Twenty-two years later, it remains a sensitive, well-paced depiction of male love with a cruelly dramatic climax. If Sive seemed a little too good-natured to be credible in 1974, he feels almost alien in the disillusioned, divided world of 1996.

"Harlan's Race," written 20 years later and appearing in paperback for the first time, follows Brown from Sive's murder in 1976 through 1990. Warren's prose has taken on a darker, harder edge.

Brown's stormy relationship with Sive's best friend, Vince Matti, forces him to confront militant gay activism, a stalker involved in Sive's death and AIDS. "The Front Runner" was a celebration of the new freedom that seemed to be dawning; "Harlan's Race" is a threnody for the loss of that hope and the needless deaths of an ongoing holocaust.

At the start of "Harlan's Race," Brown reflects, "A point of view had belonged to me, and to other gay men and lesbians, and also to many straight Americans of those times. It had vanished, without our knowing that it was at risk."

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