Buried for decades, the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy has only recently emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement. In revelatory detail, Robert W. Fieseler chronicles the tragic event that claimed the lives of thirty-one men and one woman on June 24, 1973, at a New Orleans bar, the largest mass murder of gays until 2016.
The book is loving, sensitive and diligent. It is also overstuffed, unfocused and vexing. When I say “Tinderbox” should be taught in journalism schools, I mean it as praise and rebuke. There is smart media criticism in these pages. Fieseler examines how the tragedy was covered (or more usually ignored), tracing newsroom attitudes toward homosexuality and the euphemisms used to report on gay life ... Why does this seem like an energetic impression of a book? The anxious, frantic shifts make it feel as if he is constantly trying to please someone reading over his shoulder.
Though Fieseler’s prose leans toward overreach—'Humidity, so thick with vapor that breathing air could feel like crying tears, would almost routinely reach 100 percent'—his attention to detail and intricate exploration of the material is spot-on. Fieseler shines a bright light on a dark and largely forgotten moment in the history of the gay rights movement.
Journalist Robert W. Fieseler salvages [an] unsettling moment in American history from the edge of forgetfulness in a remarkable, potent remembrance.... It's indescribably moving to learn in a final author's note that survivors hesitant to speak on the record for Tinderbox came forward with urgency after the Pulse massacre. Their testimonies, Fieseler's rigorous research and his amiable prose make this a vital, inspiring volume in the annals of gay history.