Willard Motley, Knock on Any Door
A highly descriptive and powerfully moving novel, Knock on Any Door (D. Appleton-Century Company, 1947) is the story of Nick Romano, an altar boy in Denver, whose family faces ruin, who is sent to reform school, and ends up a petty criminal in Chicago, where he is executed for the murder of a policeman. In Chicago, Nick haunts West Madison Street and, to make money, allows himself to be picked up by gay men, described as “phonies.” One such “phoney”— the word “homosexual” is never used-is a quiet man named Owen, who becomes Nick’s friend and even finds the courage to visit the young man as he awaits the electric chair in his prison cell. “Owen was somebody who understood,” writes Willard Motley, “Maybe because Owen, in his way, lived outside the law too” (p. 189). Motley finds no fault with Nick, despite his life of crime, and the only criticism that one might direct at his presentation of Owen is a somewhat stereotypical description of him “with pitifully sad eyes, long blond hair . . . fleshy body” (p. 371).