Saturday, March 19, 2011


Augusten Burroughs is a professional memoirist-- perhaps you know his childhood house of horrors, Running with Scissors, which was made into an even more nightmarish film. Dry is about several things in the life of this 20-something gay man living in New York (of course), but mostly it's about being a drunk and treating your friends less than well (especially the dying one, infelicitiously named "Pighead"). (See my blog about Bill Clegg below, then cut and paste here-- would that all addicts made $200,000 a year and could afford stay-in rehab at a cool $13,000 a week.) The problem is that we don't much care about Augusten in the end, which of course is faux-hopeful (as the recovery genre demands). His family sued him after Running with Scissors, I'm told. Got the picture?

Monday, January 17, 2011


Keeping to my rule only to read books when I can find them used, I've just read Andrew Holleran's 2006 novel, Grief. It's the first of the four of his I've read that I like without qualification. Brief, elegaic, true: it's a Washington DC novel (really a novella) without politics; a novel about Mary Todd Lincoln without Lincoln; an AIDS book where no one (probably) has it. It's about grief, yes, the Narrator has lost his mother as well as his Generation; not to mention his own youth and its past pleasures. Most of all, though, it's a novel about ageing, and ageing when one is --was-- a male homosexual. The Narrator's landlord is a 50-something gay man who still runs personal ads in the paper, though no relationship will ever the trump the one has has with his dying dog. Frank, that rare character who actually has a name, is a survivor of cancer but not much else. As I gear up to write my own novel about ageing (Walk Run Crawl won't be this sad, nor will it be this good), Holleran's Grief hasn't so much given me ideas, as it has reminded me that growing old is not, as they say, for sissies.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Edmund White's Latest

On a long, trans-Pacific flight I had time to read Edmund White's memoir of his New York (i.e., Manhattan, i.e., Manhattan below 14th Street) life in the 1960s and 1970s, City Boy. It's the familiar tale of someone with a miserable boyhood endured in the Midwest who finds fulfillment (in White's case, literally) in the big, anonymous city (he tried SF, it wasn't big enough or anonymous enough). Boring. He apparently had sex with everyone, but it didn't make him very happy. Really boring. The memoir, like his other books, is a melancholy, which usually appeals to me (being a melancholic myself), but this was relentless. I'm glad he stopped drinking, and hasn't died of HIV/AIDS. But this guy needs to fall in love-- really fall in love, and stop star-fucking. It's not too late, Ed. Just get over yourself.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bill Clegg

If you're going to be a gay crack addict, just be sure to start out with $70,000 in the bank and lots of toney New York friends and lovers who will find you posh apartments to crash in (One Fifth Avenue) and boutique rehab centers (Silver Hill) for your reluctant detours into detox. Good looks will help you, too. That's the lesson of Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, this season's memoir du jour. That said, Clegg's description of his paranoid break-down at Newark airport is the best deterrent to drug abuse I've ever read, and I've read a lot. Just wish it had been written by someone the reader could feel more sympathy for, like maybe someone who didn't row for Harvard.

Paula Fox

Suzanne Jill Levine, noted translator of Borges, gave me a copy of Paul Fox's 1970 novel, Desperate Characters. The story of a woman whose hand is bitten by a stray, possibly rabid, cat, DC is a beautiful short work about (in a larger sense) a troubled (but ultimately successful) marriage in Brooklyn against the backdrop of a decaying New York. Fox is wonderful-- there's something both Iris Murdoch-ish and Noel Coward-ish about this famous writer of children's literature. Which DC decidedly is not: its characters say quite adult and delicious things to each other. This reissued edition features a preface by Jonathan Franzen, which is filled with precious, pompous things (What does it mean to say a novel "rises up in revolt against its own perfection"?) and which I advise you to skip unless you want to learn that Franzen's own marriage had its troubles, too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Adam Mars-Jones

Continuing my habit of reading novels only years after they're published (and available in second-hand bookstores), I've just finished Adam Mars-Jones magnum opus, Pilcrow. It's the story of young, then not so young, John Cromer, a severely handicapped English boy who is institutionalized in first a Red Cross hospital, then a castle-like school for the disabled. John is bright, funny, and usually astutely aware of what's happening around him though he can hardly affect any of it.

What complicates matters further is that John understands, from very early on, that he is attracted to men. He manages to act on his desire, depsite his and his partners' compromised physical abilities. No one before Mars-Jones has described homosexuality and incapacity is quite this way-- without sentimentality, or pathos. The book is a bit long, and better at the beginning, but it confirms my view of the author as one of our best.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman's memoir, At Your Own Risk: A Saint's Testament-- I was constantly surprised how how different his world was, for someone only ten years older than me, and how innocently he reacted to it all with the trauma saved up for later. The films are so perfect, so knowing-- Where did that all come from? The memoir doesn't give much of a clue, but the garden at Dungeness does. I've only seen pictures, but it seems as perfect as his cinema. Dark, silent, alive. Is that garden still there? By the power plant? Could I go see it for myself? I'll try to make my own one of these days.