Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Edmund White has laid out an ambitious tale that chronicles the shifting sands of the sexual revolution—as seen from both straight and gay viewpoints—from the early ’60s until the start of the AIDS years. White presents the gay perspective through the eyes of Jack Holmes, a man who realizes he is gay when he falls for his straight fellow journalist and work-buddy. The straight point of view is seen through the eyes of failed novelist, Will Wright, Jack Holmes’s love interest.
The first third of the story is a cliché coming out story where Jack anguishes over his unrequited love for Will, while struggling to deal with his ‘illness’ of being gay. The story shifts to Will’s point of view, where Will experiences the cliché “straight-man in mid-life crises”, while Jack goes on the prowl every night for sex, both characters becoming the liberated sexual animal that was common during the ‘70s. The story switches back to Jack’s POV as they enter the AIDS epidemic and both characters are forced to make adjustments to their relationship and their lifestyles.
On the surface, this is gay/straight friendship with all it s highs and lows, the kind of story that’s been written a dozen times or more. Dig down a few layers, and the reader sees the progression of the gay movement by two self-absorbed characters dealing with the changing times and changing attitudes.
White is a master at eloquent prose, and I applaud the ambitious scope of this story. I did, however, find this a difficult, often boring read. Neither Jack nor Will are particularly interesting or likable. I often felt that Will was merely a mouthpiece to spout every straight cliché attitude of the times. Once the story switched to Will first-person point of view, the story looses what little momentum it had, and was never able to recover it.
White’s flowing narrative and social observations, however expressive, is chocked full of tedious description. It occasionally felt like wading through molasses. His articulate prose, however, was the bright star of this work—at times lyrical, other times gripping.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of Edmund White’s work, and this novel did little to alter my opinion.