09 October 2007

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995.

All the best plays are the long ones, right? O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey into Night means it. It's long. It's, like, four hours long. It's another way of saying that we remember the epic. People think Gravity's Rainbow is such a good book because it's almost three times longer than it should be. Ditto Underworld and maybe even Moby Dick, though I haven't read either.

Women don't write epics, which is interesting, though the argument could be made for White Teeth and The Golden Notebook. Wonderland?

Angels in America is seven hours long. You need to break the two parts up over the course of a weekend, probably. And it might be the first and it might be the only gay epic ever written. And this is why it's one of the most important books I've read. Luckily it's also one of the best.

Its project is a tough one: look at the rise of AIDS in the culture of Reagan-era New York City as experienced by three men who identify as gay, one Mormon who's oriented sexually toward other men, and Roy Cohn—who spent a lifetime in the closet and died in 1986 of complications due to AIDS. Introduce angels to the scene and try to humanize everyone no matter how villainous they might act. More than its length, AiA is magnificent for the honest way it goes about compassion. Hannah, the mother of the closeted Mormon, becomes at the end of the play a New Yorker in looks and all, amiable friends with a gaggle of gays without having gone all haggy about it. She is able to make this change because she knows herself, and her selfhood is as strong as her faith. She's in the end a kind of hero.

I will always remember Prior's final lines, will let them ring in my head long after I've forgotten everything else. He's talking to the audience:
This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.

Bye now.

You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.

And I bless you: More Life.

The Great Work Begins.
This afternoon, my boyfriend received in the mail a response from our congressman, Jeff Fortenberry (R), explaining his concerns over ENDA. "I am deeply concerned," he writes, "that this legislation elevates sexual orientation to the status of a protected class, similar to race, gender, or religion. In my view, this is not appropriate public policy."

Jeff, you may try to use your power in office to keep gays in a controllable second class, to deny us the protection you've enjoyed without ever having to fight for. You may get all proud to be legislating from your own moral universe, but we're not going away. Your children will grow up to work alongside us, to consider us friends and peers, and together we'll look back on your legacy and wonder what you were thinking.

You're not going to win. We will be citizens. The world only spins forward.

01 October 2007

Chabon, Michael. Wonder Boys. New York: Picador, 1995.

When this movie came out, I saw it in Pittsburgh, where I was attending college at the time, at Pitt, a decade and a half after this book's author was cutting his teeth in Chuck Kinder's fiction workshop. My parents saw the movie in Herndon, Va., the town I grew up in, and weeks later when I was visiting them the movie came up in conversation. The only thing I remember about our discussion was that the scene where James Leer wakes up in bed with Terry Crabtree was mentioned, and my father said, "I don't get why they did that to the character," and I tried to come up with an answer that would evince my growing understanding of cinema thanks to the useless degree toward which I was working effortlessly. I came up empty-handed.

The reasons why of all the hundreds of lines of all the thousands of conversations between my parents and me I can recollect this one particular line are unclear, but I imagine it could be held up as proof that when I say I was in the closet to myself for twenty-five years there were several appendages jutting out around the tightly held doorjamb, hyperaware of anything negative or troubling said about gay men. Regardless of where the conversation ended up, James Leer's revealed homosexuality was a point against him in my father's book, a step taken by the story's writers that removed him from serious consideration.

For a straight man, Chabon is very gay friendly. I know there's been stuff written, possibly by Chabon himself, about early gay liaisons he undertook, but now the man's married with three, four kids. And yet Chabon's smart enough to write this:
[James] looked over at Crabtree with a smile that was crooked and half grateful. He didn't seem particularly distressed or bewildered, I thought, on awakening to his first morning as a lover of men. While he worked his way up the buttons of my old flannel shirt, he kept glancing over at Crabtree, not in any mawkish way but with a deliberateness and an air of wonder, as if studying Crabtree, memorizing the geometry of his knees and elbows. (290)
Indeed, at every point in the novel where Crabtree—the editor of the novel's narrator, Grady Tripp, who teaches James Leer in his fiction workshop—is shown gallivanting with a drag queen or seducing James, his sexuality is taken very much in stride. He's, sure, a bit of a predator, but he's so in all facets of his personality. The drugs and debauchery he pushes on other characters is far more threatening than his unforced deflowering of Grady's student.

One other thing that rings true and resepctable in the novel is this point Grady makes after he realizes Crabtree won't be publishing his 2000-page unfinished novel:
It's not fashionable, I know, in this unromantic age, for a reasonably straight man to think of finding his destiny in the love of another man, but that was how I'd always thought of Crabtree. I guess you could say that in a strange sort of way I'd always believed that Crabtree was my man, and I was his. (338)
For a while there's been a strange part of me that has tried to argue that it's gay men that make the friendships among men more important or noteworthy somehow, that, like, in introducing the laughable danger of potential one-way attraction, or maybe just the simple idea of men finding it in themselves to devote their lives to other men, the lines between gay and straight are properly blurred, and whatever it means to be a man gets attached to a more full and honorable set of attributes.

I'm not sure I have the rhetorical ammo to fully develop the argument, but Chabon's novel seems to be pointing to something I've felt for a few years now. It's almost like my dad's uncertainty with James Leer that let him to ask that question about his fate is exactly what Chabon, and me sometimes, was hoping for.

Oh, to say nothing about everything that makes this novel beautiful and hilarious. Why has it taken me so long to read it?