I think I give White the benefit of the doubt because (a) "City Boy" is so great; and (b) he's a queermo, like me. But in point of fact, neither of hi...moreI think I give White the benefit of the doubt because (a) "City Boy" is so great; and (b) he's a queermo, like me. But in point of fact, neither of his novels that I've read were really that fabulous. Maybe this is a lil' whiff of my latent snobbery coming out, but I found this and "A Boy's Own Story" to be glorified erotica, rather than a measured exploration of queer subjectivity in the mid-century cultural and political American context. And I can't figure if I'm a snob or if White toots his own supposedly "high art" horn too loudly. "City Boy" is great as an historical piece of titillating gossip, and it feels important because it traces the development of a gay history that, I think v importantly, White repudiates as originally political. His sense of gay revolution is that it was, from the outset, about sexual radicalism - a turning away from heterosexual norms, rather than a rhetorical diatribe or investment in civil legalese. And it's exciting to read because White knew everyone and fucked most of them, and he has great stories about familiar figures. But the two novels redirect that energy into flat characters and endless series of similar sexual encounters. When the protagonists find "love" (structured as psychologically more important and healthy counters to the anonymous sex they've been shamefully having until that moment), one wonders: who are these people and what would ever generate actual emotional resonance between them? This one in particular sets Maria up as the enigmatic center of the novel, but she never really lives up to that dream - she seems banal rather than quirky, undeveloped rather than mysterious. She's a Holly Golightly or a Sally Bowles without any of the fun or the actual nuance.
All this said, as a pulpy read, it has its moments. I do find it troubling that White's personal history of gayness seems so much more astute and radicalized than his novelistic renderings of it, but the sex can be pretty hot and of course, I'm a sucker for any portrayal of past gay lingo, the faggot underground, and so forth. I just wish that by the end of the novel, I actually gave half a shit about the characters I'd joined for 200 pages.(less)
I fully intend to walk around saying, "I am Myra Breckenridge whom no man will ever possess."
Look, its politics are a bit...outmoded. Particularly th...moreI fully intend to walk around saying, "I am Myra Breckenridge whom no man will ever possess."
Look, its politics are a bit...outmoded. Particularly the pit-pat resolution (I won't spoil this one), which seems to reiterate a normative gender system and narrative structure. The plot is a bit flimsy, or rather, is stretched for quite a long time, when it could easily have been told as a novella. But these things shouldn't keep you from reading it, because it's also ridiculously fun & offensive, & Myra is a monster at the same time that she's, like, my new role model? Well, parts of Myra, at any rate.(less)
You know, I know I liked this book (though I found it uneven), but I'm always at a loss as to how to review poetry. Even if I'm supposedly working tow...moreYou know, I know I liked this book (though I found it uneven), but I'm always at a loss as to how to review poetry. Even if I'm supposedly working towards becoming a literary scholar, and one who frequently teaches poetry, I suppose I tend to have a sort of visceral reaction to something or I react not at all. Either way, these are affective and not necessarily intellectual responses. I'll say one critique though: Gunn's rigid formalism seems to be a real double-edged sword for this collection: at times, it manages to retrieve his more emotional portraits of the HIV/AIDS epidemic from maudlin-"Philadelphia" style tearjerkers; at others, his insistence on clear rhyme schemes or metered lines leads the poetry into a kind of facile tone, or one that feels more weightless than it should, if that makes any sense. Not that it's being silly, but that it begins to be a bit like cotton candy; it's there for a moment of pleasure and then dissolves into nothingness, leaving no memory behind it. The first and fourth parts were my personal favorites, though I need to go back and close read some of the specific pieces for my field exam soon. Perhaps an update to this review then. (less)
I rest assured that many, many lovers of Fun Home won't adore this one with quite the same heat - and I'll admit that I didn't *prefer* it to Fun Home...moreI rest assured that many, many lovers of Fun Home won't adore this one with quite the same heat - and I'll admit that I didn't *prefer* it to Fun Home - but I think it's a solid follow-up & has a quite different project going on, to boot. Of course it appears less closed, less realized; it's offering a story which remains in-process. Bechdel attempts to account for her relationship with her mother here; but given that her mother is still alive (and seems, if nothing else, disdainful if tolerant of the memoir project) and the relationship cannot be transparent or fully understood, "Are You My Mother?" necessarily has a kind of haphazard narrative feel.
Nonetheless, if you did like Fun Home - and I do suggest reading it first - give this a shot. Bechdel can be a little maudlin here in a way that Fun Home never fell prey to, and I certainly realize that not everyone will be interested in the psychoanalytic context, but this memoir has an emotional integrity and an investment in understanding what it means to produce a story about oneself that seems to me largely unparalleled in the genre.
Also, there's this wonderful flight of fancy where V Woolf meets Donald Winnicott! Woolf is a nice presence here in general, and a good comfort for me - Bechdel made me, as in Fun Home, not only to immerse myself in her text, but to seek out everything mentioned, everything glimpsed - or, as with Woolf, to return again to those novels I know so well already with a new eye. That strikes me as incredibly successful.(less)
"The Line of Beauty" this ain't. But I don't actually think it sets out to be that novel, despite critics' willingness to hold Hollinghurst's last nov...more"The Line of Beauty" this ain't. But I don't actually think it sets out to be that novel, despite critics' willingness to hold Hollinghurst's last novel as the ultimate yardstick for judging this one (and contemporary gay fiction more generally). There are some resonances between them, particularly an obsession with gay history/historiography, but this is not a novel about struggling with one's sexual identity-and it's also not a novel about the seismic shift that occurred with the onset of the AIDS pandemic.
At the center of the novel (which is comprised of five narratives/five time periods) is Cecil Valance, a kind of Wilfred Owen, tragic-poet figure. Everyone wants to fuck Cecil, and I'll confess that he comes off as highly fuckable. If you don't sleep with him or want to, you want to make an icon of him. Part romance, part biography, part meta-narrative about literary criticism, the novel traverses time and genre easily largely through keeping Cecil as the fulcrum of each tale. I suppose I do see "Brideshead." I do see "Maurice." I do see "Atonement." But the first two have become unavoidable literary pillars for gay fiction, particularly for a certain period and certain class in British history. I think anyone can hear "Atonement" in a period drama that features a precocious, sexually awakening young girl.
There are echoes, then, in this novel, but Hollinghurst's novel ultimately feels more like a comment on those echoes and how one grapples with a history that implicates you but isn't your own. It's often tragic, frequently beautiful, and certainly a page-turning sort of read. He has that knack for being both literary and addictive. Docked a star, though, because the separation between the five narratives felt at times a bit too tidy, in such a way that it nearly felt like five short novels rather than one coherent one. If this is your first Hollinghurst go to "Line of Beauty" instead, but this is certainly worth your while if you've already enjoyed his work.(less)
Three stars feels very insulting w/r/t Hollinghurst, but I suppose the gist of what I have to say is this: The Swimming Pool Library is v obviously a...moreThree stars feels very insulting w/r/t Hollinghurst, but I suppose the gist of what I have to say is this: The Swimming Pool Library is v obviously a debut novel; meandering & bloated & trying to figure out why it might maybe sort of kind of be important.
The novel follows two central threads - Will, a young gay man in late-century (is it clear what decade precisely? Any rate, it's pre-AIDS) England, whose nearly exclusive purpose is to shag as many dudes at the local gym as possible; and Nantwich, an ancient gay who spent time in Africa & for some reason is all famous and shit.
Hollinghurst's big problem lies right there: both of these figures not only believe themselves to be important, but Hollinghurst also obviously wants his readership to believe this; to find them important and glamorous, even though this glamour is vaguely and self-referentially camp/silly/mockable. It's as if he realized by the time he finished the book that neither is actually all that interesting, & so undercut critiques of that by including some humor about their narcissism and self-interest. Unfortunately, he never fleshes either Will or Nantwich enough - well, excepting the actual manipulation of their naughty flesh, no-no bits, etc. - to warrant 330 pages of this. They're both basically pseudo-intelligent fucksticks, & yes, the dirty stuff is kind of hot, and line-by-line, Hollinghurst really is an incomparable writer in a stylistic sense, but it's patently clear to me that he simply hadn't quite figured out narrative pacing, formal play, or, well, storytelling! to carry this off.
The diary entries are profoundly tedious until the very very end, and there comes a point when you realize that Will has watched just about every man in England covertly, or not so covertly, stroke his cock on the subway, in the gym, at hotel bars, in the pool, on the street, in the woods (???), and along apartment building stairwells - so even this begins to feel overcooked, flashy to cover up some other failure. James is once in a while a lovable character, but his self-debasement grows thin & you find yourself thinking, "Now we know why no one wants to fuck you, kid!" And that itself then becomes unbelievable, because his friendship with Will has no context, no emotional core - so ultimately, who will put faith in some deep affective bond between a studly, huge-dicked cad & a pathetic uggo who hates himself & pines for dozens of men who don't notice him.
All that said, I'm being real shady to this novel, & this review sounds as if I wouldn't even award it a single star! This is untrue & unfair. It's an enjoyable read (except the diary bits - these I actually *skimmed* in the final 100 pages - something I NEVER do with pleasure reads!), and as I said, Hollinghurst's actual prose is nearly as astonishing here as it continues to be today. There are great bits, and the end reveal is actually quite wonderful. I think, had I read this earlier in my Hollinghurst experience, I might have given it the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I just have to admit that "The Stranger's Child" seems to do everything that this novel tries to do, and does so perfectly, beautifully, critically. And there's a lot more going on in that novel beyond this, to boot.
Oh, & lastly: do people talk about Hollinghurst's bizarre neo-exoticism? This goes on in "Line of Beauty" (and in "Line of Booty," my Nobel-winning fanfic porno v of that novel!), and is almost vom-worthy here. There are some seriously fucked up mandingo fetishes happening that, like, *almost* seem to be examined, but aren't, really. I can't tell if Hollinghurst is being a bit tight-lipped-ly critical of his protagonists' obsessions with objectifying non-white bodies, or if he needs someone to be like, "Yo, stop the minstrel show!"
ANYWHO. Bit camp, bit tawdry, bit bloated. Worth the read, sure, but I would personally recommend Line of Beauty or Stranger's Child over this one.(less)
An enjoyable little bildungsroman, from the vantage point of a gay child/teenager from a wealthy but broken family. White's style inclines to the good...moreAn enjoyable little bildungsroman, from the vantage point of a gay child/teenager from a wealthy but broken family. White's style inclines to the good, but he can be a bit too 'knowing' at times--his cultural reference points seem to be his own, rather than his protagonist's, at times. I realize this is at least in part a loosely autobiographical novel, but there were moments where I'd find myself thinking "Does this 13 year old boy really know anything about Proust?" and those moments did take me out of the story a bit. Also, more sex! More sex! The book opens with a naughty scene and then that whole sexual awakening narrative drops off until nearly the end of the novel, when our hero uses his...oral skills...to pull a Judas Iscariot. That resolution seemed to me a bit too pat, a bit irrelevant to what had come before.
These are all petty quibbles, though. It was a fun read, but not particularly weighty. I don't know much about White, but I suppose my baseline assessment would be that it felt like a solid debut novel from a young novelist. Still plan to explore his body of work further, though.(less)
About the last book I'd ever pick up on my own (I am about as far from interested in sports as one can possibly be), but Ware's successful integration...moreAbout the last book I'd ever pick up on my own (I am about as far from interested in sports as one can possibly be), but Ware's successful integration of a widespan of provocative topics--feminism, Title IX, the politics of athletics, BJ King, public outing, &co--proved a quite interesting and educational (but not boring) read. I can't say I came away from the book *liking* King really at all, but I don't require that from a biographical portrait. She certainly offers a useful icon/figurehead for the intersections of these diverse issues, even if she seems self-serving and, well, profoundly fake.
It's an accessible book that wears its research well. In the interest of full disclosure, Susan Ware was teaching a grad course I was in at the time of reading, but this is no sycophantic review. I think particularly if you're interested in feminist history, sports, tennis, or King this will be a wonderfully useful book to have at hand.(less)
As I near the end of the semester, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage as fully as I'd like to with all these theoretical texts, but Reid-Phar...moreAs I near the end of the semester, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage as fully as I'd like to with all these theoretical texts, but Reid-Pharr is a surprisingly lucid and accessible (self-proclaimed) queer theorist. I'll confess that I found some of his writing a bit repetitive, not to mention that at times I felt he was repeating his ideas over and over again (and not in the Judith Butler kind of way, where her repetitions are both necessary for comprehension and continually add things on to an already complex idea). But ultimately, I really appreciate his attempt to locate theory in a more pragmatic experiential sphere--he keeps in mind that people are living creatures, and not merely ideological constructs that can be marionetted around for the purpose of his book. Thus, his approach--one that veers dangerously close to the ol' American "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" sort of mantra, but doesn't quite hit those troubled waters--keeps me very much in check as I think about his theories. Though, as I said, he wants to make clear that he thinks we need to escape the post-slavery conceptualization of blackness as a sort of "profound innocence" (in that Black Americans are culturally imagined as incapable of evading the historical legacy of slavery--within and without the black community), he does not discount the effects of history on the individual. He wants, however, people of all shapes and sizes to think of themselves as, essentially, free agents who are not eternally trapped in their communal pasts. Thus, he employs a few existentialist thinkers (Sartre pops up a few times, as does de Beauvoir, if I recall correctly), but challenges them at their face value.
The chapter on Baldwin is really fascinating, especially as I was reading Baldwin's "Another Country" simultaneously (and, I should say, not enjoying it)--as was the Huey Newton one. But really, read the intro and the conclusion, and you've got a pretty good idea of what's going on in the text. The rest is the icing on top, as it were. This wasn't revelatory by any means, but I think taken in tandem with other contemporary queer/race theories, it's a really nice addition.(less)