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.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Home at the End of the World

Michael Cunningham is the novelist I'd like to be. Denizen of used bookstores that I am, I usually only read novels years after they come out. Home at the End of the World is twenty years old, but I only discovered it this past weekend. This story of Jonathan, Bobby and Claire and the life they make by fits and starts reminded me of my own youth (I'm roughly their age) and the possibilities for family I had back then, too. Another masterful book from Cunningham about the times we 50-something gay men lived and live in.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jack the Modernist

Why has it taken me twenty-five years to discover this novel? Robert Glück, in writing the story of Bob and Jack, writes about two individuals whose on-again, off-again affair rivets the attention of the reader. This postmodernist work requires readerly effort, but we are rewarded. Jack the Modernist makes gay people complicated, instead of the cartoons we usually are in fiction. Glück surprised me on every page with his language and his perceptions, his humor and his ironies. Do I want to be Bob? Or Jack? No. But I want the taut energy that leaps off the page whenever they appear.