24 September 2008

Self, Will. Dorian: An Imitation. New York: Grove Press, 2002.

Self's title here works two ways. His Dorian is an imitation of Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, and Self's Dorian Gray, which is to say his hero, is an imitation of whatever he needs to be, given the situation at hand. Numerous times the narrator refers to this man as a chameleon, and indeed there's something far more sinister about this Dorian than Wilde's.

Self has updated the story to AIDS-era Britain. Instead of a picture, Dorian is reproduced as Cathode Narcissus, a nine-monitor video installation of Dorian's nude body seen voyeuristically at all angles at once. It's this video that Dorian wishes would age while he stays young, and, indeed, this is what happens. But Self pushes the central magic further: Dorian's video self also bears AIDS's ravages of the body, while the live Dorian is able to live with (and spread) the virus without any personal threat.

What's great about this novel is how it sits right at that line between anti-gay and anti-"gay"—which is to say, borderline homophobic but really in the end just smartly critical of all the failures of post-Stonewall gay culture. Self attacks the whole notion of gay identity and identification, most explicitly in the dialogue of his heroin-shooting novelist stand-in character Devenish:
"It's been the misfortune of people who prefer sex with their own gender to be forced to regard this as some essential part of themselves. After all, homosexuality was only defined as a pathology in response to the alleged healthiness of heterosexuality. It's the great mistake of you ... erm ... you gays to mistake a mere attribute for an essence." (212)
And the same character attacks gay/our culture's youth obsession:
"If Gray were able to stay young and have this video installation age in his stead, he'd be the icon of an era in which everyone seeks to hang on to their childhood until they're pressing furry fucking teddy bears against wrinkled cheeks." [. . .] "You homosexuals are only the vanguard of a mutton army dressed as denim lambs. (220)
Will Self is straight (or, well, "straight" or whatever), which complicates all this in stupid ways. What I mean is, if it were, say, Foucault saying this (which he did, essentially, regarding the first quote), or Roy Cohn in Angels in America (who said something similar to the second quote regarding clout and anti-discrimination laws), I'd be fine with it. The "community" or whatever would be fine with it, but as Self doesn't identify as gay (nor could he I don't think), his writing could be seen as homophobic. I could find some critical quotes or whatever but it's not even 8am yet.

At any rate, there's this, too, a longer quote, which I think really just shows how astutely Self's developed his sense of gay culture's failures (which I mean like temporary failures that haven't yet been overcome; not like inherent failures that make it some hot eternal mess):
"They say now that those few short years between the Stonewall Riots and the arrival of AIDS were characterised by a mounting sense of liberation, that we gay men felt the time had come to be ourselves, to express ourselves, to live as we truly wanted to live, free of guilt, free of convention, free of interference. They say now that the disease is a ghastly, one-off, one-act play. A piece of incomprehensible dramatic irony, inflicted on up happy Arcadians by a god who doesn't even exist. They say now that those damp bath-houses and fetid gyms, the bloody meat racks and the shitty cottages were the perfect places for the virus to fester, to replicate, to pump its own iron. The glory hole turned out to be a gory hole. [This kind of stupid punning is I'm afraid a common thread in the book, one of the many places where Self happily tries to channel Wilde and the rest of us cringe.*] They say HIV may have ben present for years in the West, and that it was only this ever lengthening conga line of sodomy—with jet travel connecting cock from San Francisco with asshole in NYC, cock from NYC with asshole in London—that allowed it to get so out of control. They say a lot of things, but for those of use who were there it was simple. Simple to observe that for men who were meant to be free, how readily they draped themselves in chains..." (95).
This is almost relentless in its animosity, particularly at the end, but I should note that it's spoken by an HIV-positive gay man, specifically Basil Hallward, who, as Wilde wrote, "is what I think I am."

I can't read this passage and not help but think about what Gurganus had to say about the coming of AIDS and the coming of war, or what David Foster Wallace had to say in Might magazine all those years ago about AIDS and the end of guilt-free sport-fucking. It's like somehow in seeing the benefits or the good that can come out of the presence of AIDS, these writers have turned the tables, and exposed AIDS victimization as a kind of pollyannaism?

The question is: which is the line of thought that will lead to victory over those who want to oppress us? It's all well and good to read Foucault and argue that our homosexuality is as banal and set in stone as our eye color (well, contacts, but you know what I mean) and therefore nothing to make any grand deal of. But to me this smells a little too much of "I don't mind homosexuals as long as they don't flaunt themselves in my face" and "Whatever you do in your bedroom, why is it my business?"

At any rate, I'm glad for Self's book. I'd much rather read something critical and thought-provoking than the easy bromides of rah-rah "Good for us!" gay fiction. Even if the former isn't accurate, the latter feels like a lie.
* It's not all bad, though. "I adore destructive spectacles; they are the last refuge of the creative." Henry Wotton (of course) says this. And this: "Violent crimes are in astonishingly bad taste, just as bad taste is a violent crime."

22 September 2008

Puig, Manuel. Kiss of the Spider Woman. New York: Vintage, 1980.

This novel is almost entirely written in dialogue, without any markers. No "Valentin said"s or "said Molina"s. And yet we always know when it's Valentin—an Argentinian revolutionary thrown in jail for revolutionary activities—who is speaking and when it's Molina—a gay Argentinian window-dresser thrown in jail for corrupting a minor.

Molina treats Valentin as though he's a child and in the process of being imprisoned they fall in a kind of love with one another. In the meantime they pass the meantime by Molina telling Valentin in great detail the plots of various movies he remembers. This is interesting at first, the first movie he retells is Curse of the Cat People, but then it stops being interesting. I do envy Puig such an easy way of producing in his novel. How do you pass time? How do you fill the pages between key plot points? Apparently you can just have someone talk through a movie from beginning to end.

Let's try it:

Sarah is a young girl who doesn't reallly have many friends, and who likes—you can tell by the kind-of-Ren-fair-y way she dresses, what with the frilly pirate shirt and leather vest-like garment—the idea of living in a world of fantasy. A far-away kind of place. At the opening of the movie she's out in this park with bridges and maybe a couple fountains and she starts speaking to nobody, like she's reciting lines. "Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way to the castle beyond the goblin city, to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great..."

She stops there, because she can't remember the rest. And then she pulls from her jeans pocket a little leatherbound paperback of a book and it turns out she is reciting lines. The book is like a play, maybe. And the next line is: "You have no power over me." So then it starts to rain and she has to run home with her dog, Lancelot (see what I mean about living in a fantasy world?), and when she arrives her stepmother demands that Lancelot, soaking wet, stay in the garage. This establishes her as an enemy. Turns out she and Sarah's father are going out that night and Sarah needs to stay home to babysit her infant half-brother Toby. Sarah complains vocally in the home's large foyer, with steps spiraling up along the wall and a large chandelier hanging down in the middle. But she doesn't mention having any other plans. One imagines she had a night planned of reciting lines from various fantasy texts, but no: Toby needs looked after.

The parents leave and Sarah runs up to her room. Here we see the shameful extent of her love-affair with lives and worlds other than this unbearable one in which she's forced to wander, alone. On the wall is the requisite Escher print, the one with all the wayward steps. She's got little stuffed animals of bears-as-knights and bears-as-damsels and motley little things. A ballerina inside a glass dome. &c. Toby starts crying almost immediately and Sarah goes into her parents' room to check on him. Toby's like blond and dressed in a red-white mini-striped onesie that makes him look like something a sailor might take care of. He's indeed crying and Sarah tries to get him to stop. She starts telling him a story about "an evil stepmother" and a "persecuted young maiden" or some such, and it's clear that she's once again bending fiction and fact. "One night," Sarah says, "when he stepmother had been particularly cruel, the young girl called on the goblins for help.

"'Say the right words,' the goblins told her, 'and we'l take the baby away and you will be free.'"

And then we cut to a up-close cluster of little goblins. "Listen," one of them says. Turns out there are goblins, see, and they actually can listen to Sarah tell this story to her younger brother. This is maybe the first of the movie's steps toward metafiction. I think maybe there'll be others.

At any rate, Sarah grabs Toby and holds him up in the air. There's all kinds of thunder and lightning happening outside, and she screams, "Goblin King, Goblin King, wherever you may be, take this child of mine far away from me!"

Nothing happens. The goblins are disappointed. "That's not it!" they say. "Where'd she learn that rubbish, it doesn't even start with 'I wish'!"

Because this didn't work, even though of course Sarah didn't really expect it to, she sets Toby back in the crib and lets him cry himself to sleep. "I wish the goblins would come and take you away," she says, shutting out the light. "Right now."

Well, then he stops crying. Turns out this is exactly what she had to say to get the Goblin King to come and take Toby away. So, thinking it a little odd that the crying just stopped like that, she creeps inside and tries the light. But nothing. And she starts hearing all these little creeping sounds and giggles and such. Plus, again, tons of thunder and lightning. Well Toby isn't in the crib when she gets to it, and suddenly she sees all these little goblins scurrying around corners and such, and suddenly the large picture windows burst open and an owl, that we've been watching trying to get into the room, flies all around her head. It's like a snowy white owl with the eyes that make it look a little Oriental, you know? The owl lands and turns into this tall wizardy looking man with high, teased hair and extremely tight pants. Like, the tightest. Oh and a purple cape/robe deal.

It's David Bowie. This is Gareth, the Goblin King.

Sarah pleads to get her brother back and Gareth tells her "What's said is said."

"But I didn't mean it!" she says. And then Gareth starts doing this thing where he like "juggles" these glass orbs, except they never leave the surface of his hands. They like roll around and defy gravity. Turns out Gareth can offer Sarah her dreams if only she'll let him keep Toby, but she can't do it. "Please," she says. "It's not that I don't appreicate what you're doing for me, but I've got to have my brother back."

"Sarah," Gareth says, and then somehow the orbs turn into a snake in his hands. "Don't defy me!"

Then he throws the snake at her neck, where it turns into a scarf, which then is revealed to be hiding a small goblin.

"You're not match for me, Sarah!"

And so on. It's possible that I'm getting into far too much detail, but this dialogue between Sarah and Gareth is really what makes the movie so good. That and the songs, which are coming.

At any rate, it turns out that Toby has been taken to Gareth's castle, which is at the center of this great maze. He points out the window and suddenly they've been transported to these hills overlooking the entirety of Gareth's kingdom. If Sarah can solve the labyrinth within 13 hours she can have Toby back, otherwise he'll "become one of us, forever."

Gareth then disappears, which he's good at.

So Sarah heads down the hill to try to find an entrance into the labyrinth, and there she finds a goblin pissing into a lake. His name is Hoggle and he's very dismissive and unhelpful. "Oh, it's you," he says, as though he knows her. Hoggle is one of the first people to teach Sarah various lessons. One of them is simple: she sees these little Tinkerbell-like fairies all over the place and plucks one of out the air. It promptly bites her finger. "What did you expect fairies to do?" Hoggle says. Sarah learns that all is not what it seems in this place.

Eventually, she wheedles from Hoggle information on how to get in, and all she can see is one long corridor. One side is a little more cleared of debris than the other. She takes the other, and she runs and runs and there's this high-energy 80s music playing to help her on her way, but all she can see is one long corridor. It's frustrating and she collapses along the wall to rest, where she hears a tiny voice say "Hello." She looks down and there's a little worm there, who invites her "inside" to "meet the misses." She explains that she needs to get into the maze, and the worm tells her that the walls may look like walls, but are in fact walk-throughable. She tries it and voila! She's off.

"But don't go that way!" the worm cautions. "Never go that way!" She goes off the other way and the worm says, to himself, and us of course, "If she'd have kept on going down that way she'd have gone straight to that castle." One of the movie's many little ironies.

Now Sarah's in the maze proper and she comes up with the brilliant idea of marking with her lipstick arrows on stones to remind her where she's come from. But we see that once she marks a stone, these tiny little carrot-sized goblins that speak like Italian stereotypes having inhaled helium, start lifting and rotating her arrows. When she hits a deadend, she looks abck and sees what's happened and throws her lipstick to the ground. "What a horrible place this is. It's not fair!"

"That's right," a voice says, "it's not fair." Then a bunch of laughter. Behind her, the dead end has turned into two doors, each guarded by two men who are like, flipped on one another. Like the one standing on his own feet has the head of another hanging below the shield and that one's feet up by the standing one's ears. Make sense? So one red pair and one blue pair. They look a little like hound dogs. Apparently the only way onward is through one of those doors. One of them leads to the castle and the other one leads to ... "certain death."

"Well which door should I take?" Sarah asks.

"You can't ask us, you can only ask one of us. And I should warn you that one of us always tells the truth and one of us always lies."

So Sarah needs to use some brainpower to figure out how to play the game while also getting the right answer. She goes up to the one on the left, the red one I think, and asks: "Would he tell me if this door leads to the castle." The goblin commiserates with his upside-down partner and says, "Yes?"

"Then the other door leads to the castle and this door leads to certain death," Sarah announces, proudly.

"But he could be telling the truth!" the goblin says.

"But then you wouldn't be," she says. "So if he says yes I know the answer is no."

"But I could be telling the truth!"

"Then he would be lying. So if he says yes, I still know the answer is no."

They let her pass through the door on the right and she says, "This labyrinth is a piece of cake!"

And then she falls through some trap door in the ground, and she's falling down this very dark hole, kind of like Alice's, except this one has all these weird grey arms and hands grabbing at her. Eventually they catch her and she hovers there, yelling, "Help!"

The hands then form into these faces, with fingers making lips and thumbs poking out like eyes. "What do you mean help, we are helping," one of the 'faces' says.

They ask whether she wants to go up or down, and Sarah stupidly, stupidly chooses down. They drop her into this completely dark hole and seal up the lid.

We cut to Gareth, who's hanging out in his lair in the castle. Oh, I forgot to mention that we've seen this lair before. When Sarah was running through the maze we cut to the castle and he sang this song with all his goblins. There was a lot of "magic jumping" doing on, with goblins hovering in the air. Gareth tossed Toby almost up to the ceiling. Very dangerous. Here, though, he announces that Sarah's in "the oubliette." The goblins laugh and Gareth yells that she should have given up by now, so we get our first indication that he's getting worried about how smart and resilient she's being.

Down in the oubliette, which comes from the French word for "forget," Sarah hears noises and suddenly there's Hoggle with a candle, explaining that he'll take her back to the beginning of the maze. But Sarah's gone too far to take him up on that deal, so she offers him her ring. Hoggle likes jewelry. It's made of plastic, which excited him even further. Sarah says he can have if it he takes her as far as he can, and he agrees. He then goes to the wall and finds a broom closet which he opens in, like, the other direction? Like he grabs where the hinges are? And it opens into a cave: the way out!

As they're walking through the cave, all these faces are cut into the rock walls. "DON'T GO OOOON!" one says, and they all start speaking in turn.





"(soon it will be too late)"

This last one is like muttered, oddly enough. The rock man seems to be the effete one in the bunch. Sarah and Hoggle make it to a long corridor, where a goblin is begging with a little tin cup. "What have we here?" it says.

"Nothing," Hoggle says.

"Nothing? Nothing?!" It's Gareth in disguise!

"Nothing, tra la la?" he says, shaking what's now a puppet of a goblin.

He asks Sarah how she's enjoying the labyrinth and she says it's a piece of cake. This pisses Gareth off enough that he "finds" a clock hanging in the air, and speeds up the time by an hour, giving Sarah less time to find her brother. Then he plucks out another glass orb and throws it into the depths of the tunnel. "Let's see how you handle this little slice," he says.

From the blackness comes this big scary mass of rotating knives and blades. It fills the perfectly round tunnel and is coming right for them! They run for it, and fortunately break through a door in the side of the tunnel at just the right minute. There's a ladder here! They go up.

When they ran into Gareth he accused Hoggle of helping Sarah, rather than following his commands to lead her to the beginning. Hoggle denied any help and said he was just tricking Sarah. Clearly, it's hard to figure out whether to trust him, and so they talk it out as they head up the ladder. "I told him I was leading you back to the beginning just to throw him off the scent," Hoggle insists.

"How can I trust anything you say?" Sarah says.

"What choice have you got?" he asks, and Sarah concedes.

They surface inside a large urn back in the middle of the maze, except here most of the walls are hedges and not brick. There's a man with a bird for a hat that they talk to, but the only thing important about it is that Sarah refers to Hoggle as her friend, and he's visibly moved by this. So they keep going through the maze and hear a large scary roar. Hoggle runs off in fear and disavows anything about being Sarah's friend. But she won't be scared, and she goes around the corner to look. There, a large, bigfoot-like creature is hanging by his feet and these little armored goblins are poking him with spears.

And I'm not even halfway done. There are the fieries that can take their heads off, and the Bog of Eternal Stench and the dream sequence at the masquerade ball. So maybe there was some artistry in typing out movie plots after all....

17 September 2008

Peck, Dale. Martin and John. New York: FSG, 1993.

A collection of stories billed as a novel, and formed into a kind of novel by making all the characters have the same names. To wit: John is our protagonist, for the most part. Often the first-person narrator, he's young and gay and grows up in Kansas. His mother is named Bea. In some stories, Bea is dead. In some stories Henry is his father. In some stories, Henry is abusive. In all the stories, Martin is the beloved.

The result is almost a fantasia of all the possible forms a gay relationship might take. Peck takes a page from Genet in this regard. But in the stories'/chapters' presentation—separate titles, radically shifting point of view and settings—Martin and Johnisn't as cohesive as Our Lady of the Flowers. Our attempts to connect the John of "Blue Wet-Paint Columns" and the John of "The Search for Water" are futile. Causality is tossed aside, but never for any great effect.

It's a shame that whoever published this book decided it had to be a novel. Many of these stories just rip right through the reader. They have such a drive and energy at times. Here's the end of a story where Martin is both Bea's boyfriend and eventually John's bedmate:
All he ever wanted was both of us, and of course he could have neither in the end. That's like Martin, like his tears, his touches, his other empty words. You can have your dreams, he'd said in the kitchen, of how life should be and what your ideal lover should look like and how your first time should go, but he knew—and I do too, now—that you'll never get it, or never be able to hold on to it if you do. Not in this life, he'd told me: only when you're dead. (81)
Reading the book like a novel (which is to say moving from one story to the next as though merely time is passing) ruins all this great effect.

You may recall that Dale Peck used to be the book reviewer for The New Republic, the one who famously wrote that Rick Moody was the "worst writer of his generation." These days he write a column on the movies for fag-rag Out, and hasn't published a novel in a while. Maybe his career's over. Maybe karma's real.

13 September 2008

Wallace, David Foster. Everything He'd ever Written Except Like Half of That Signifying Rappers Book He Co-Wrote. Boston: Back Bay? 1988?-2008.

Just a mournful post to mention one of the most tragic deaths of my entire life, which sounds callous and awful seeing as how I never met him personally. Without a doubt, David Foster Wallace was my favorite writer living in America today. I will spend hours upon hours arguing with any of you how he was easily the most important creator of fictional texts in our lives. As J. Robert Lennon said, even when he was bad he was amazing. No writer working today understood exactly how and why contemporary American life became some sad and alienating.

That we'll never have another book of his to read means we'll never become the better people we can imagine ourselves to be. Okay so I'm drunk after a Huskers game: can I be allowed some deifying hyperbole?

You haven't read his novels? You and your life sucks for it.

12 September 2008

Monette, Paul. Afterlife. New York: Avon Books, 1990.

For the actual cover, just print the following below that image of Hockney's at left:

"Affecting... Engrossing... A radiant book" L.A. Times Book Review

Such a cover doesn't exist online though I've got the thing right in front of me. The standard cover given the book now is a lot more PG (well, because gay men are depicted it'd probably get PG-13), and probably more appropriate. Not only is there no naked men sunbathing in Monette's novel, but I don't even recall any pools. And yet there's that (admittedly stunning) ass there.

I bring all this up to talk about the thing that sucks the hardest about gay literary fiction. No one, certainly not gay men, has figured out how to respectably market it. We can't market it to straight audiences—is there any other cover that could more fully prevent any straight man from picking up this book in a bookstore?—and we can't market it to gay audiences, because literary fiction has to compete with all the other books that have naked men on the covers.

You can argue this is a trend with book-marketing in general (even The River Wife's cover has a nipple on it) but you'd be exaggerating. The other thing that sucks about gay fiction is that there's such poor amount of discrimination going on. Books that I want to argue are bad books get championed as "radiant" or even "brilliant."

First I'll try to explain why this is so, and then I'll talk about why this book is bad. Here's something Susie Bright (who's most interesting on that one episode of Six Feet Under where, I think, Claire's aunt threw that bitchin' party) had to say in the film version of Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet (I'm paraphrasing):
When you are growing up gay, you're so starved for images, for representations of yourself. And you basically sit through any movie just for the part where the lesbian comes in. You get so used to being nurtured by these crumbs.
She said it a lot less highfalutin-y than I just did, but trust me, she used the crumbs metaphor.

Monette's Afterlife isn't crumbs by any means; every central character is gay, and the three at its center are what he calls "AIDS widows" meaning they've each lost the men closest to them to the disease. It should, then, be a feast, but it's like fast food. Maybe tasty but bad for you. Um. Jesus let me can these stupid metaphors.

I am immediately distrustful of a novel in which its central character doesn't really have to worry about money or work and ends up with someone richer and more attractive than anyone who'll ever read this blog. This man, named Mark* in this novel, is there in the opening scene: "Mark's in television," says Steven, our protagonist. "Major heartthrob. Eats gorgeous men for breakfast" (10). And because this is a gay novel it's clear to everyone that we'll need to "see" this man naked, and hopefully let our stand-in have hot sex with him. And lo. And behold.

What Afterlife is then, immediately, is a fantasy. And yes, it's an important fantasy, at a time when gay men had watched so many of their friends and lovers die, one after another, from AIDS that a fantasy I'm sure was a small but welcome consolation. And I have nothing wrong with fantasies. Angels in America, which I've lavished praise on lots here, bills itself as "a gay fantasia on national themes" and I think I wouldn't have had a problem with Monette's novel if it made a similar move at the beginning. Instead it makes these weak attempts at history and contextualization. One character becomes a mild terrorist, calling in bomb threats to homophobic institutions. The novel satirizzes (I think? or maybe we're meant to honor it?) the new age culture of California in the 80s/90s. If the central plot arc wasn't such a fairy tale I could have taken these sideplots seriously.

The writing, also, is uneven. I was going to say bad, because, like: "For Steven [a travel agent] travel was over. He'd become a walking bad advertisement, like a misspelled sandwich board" (9). But then Monette surprises me with these moment of sharp observation. At a meeting for AIDS survivors: "Everyone seemed to be taking something different and was armed with newsletters and offprints, fierce as an eighth-grade science project" (75).

It's a great line, because so honest. And so why the phoniness in which all his characters are weakly dressed? And why did Richard McCann call it "an achievement of the imagination" in USA Today?

Here's a fun way to waste ten minutes. Go to your bigbox bookstore and take a look at the three shelves devoted to gay and lesbian books. Read the synopses and imagine that novels such as these were the only chance you'd get to see representations of yourself in print. Q: How quickly would you run to reality TV?
*I've got this thing brewing in my head somewhere about gay novelists and the names they give the beloved, or like superhot ideal man, that is at the center of them all. The name always starts with M. Here we have Mark. Andrew Holleran's seminal (!!!) Dancer from the Dance has one as does Kramer's Faggots released the same year. Holleran's beloved may even just be named M. You see it in Peck's Martin and John, and potentially others. Is it that M is the first letter of "man"? Or "mom"? Paging Dr. Freud....

10 September 2008

Bell, Matt. "Ken Sent Me: Lost in the Land of Lounge Lizards." Hobart Fall 2008: 1-12.

One of the first computer games I ever remember playing that didn't involve reading text, responding to that text, and then waiting to see where such a response would get me was Sierra On-Line's perennial favorite, Leisure Suit Larry. It belonged to one of my cousins, and three times a year or so when the family would gather together at his house I'd ... no! Sorry, the very first time I played it was on the computer owned by my oldest sister's 25-year-old boyfriend Rob, who had a kind of Dennis Quaid thing going on in the jaw and eyes. I hung out with my sister relentlessly in the days of my pre-adolescence, and I guess I'd follow her over to Rob's house in Fairfax, where I'd sit and play LSL for hours while the two of them did lord knows what in the basement.

At any rate, I just recently received the new issue of Hobart, which is one of the more exciting journals to appear in recent years. This issue's the games issue, and it opens with a great essay by Matt Bell that brought back all those old memories. Of especial interest was this: "I am perhaps a member of the first modern generation to learn about sex from a video game instead of from a movie or a book" (9). LSL taught him about sex at an age where his folks weren't ready to do it and in an era before the Internet would have all the answers.

Were I to write an essay about LSL I'd let the thing wallow in your standard It Was Troubling As A Closeted Teen To See These Images And Wonder: What About Me? So thanks to Matt for handling it much better.

Another thing that makes Hobart great is the regular "DVD Extras" to each issue that editor Aaron Burch posts online. Go see. Be on the lookout for a brief little companion piece by what I've been told is a promising young writer to whom we should all pay more attention.

03 September 2008

Gide, André. The Counterfeiters (1925). New York: Vintage, 1973.

A novel as much about writing as it is about coded homosexuality in 1920's France (a time, lest we forget, that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas just about ruled that town). Two rival writers, Edouard and Robert, fall for the same impressionable young boy, Olivier, who decides to run off with Robert, the more famous and less honorable of the two. Edouard, a kind of stand-in for Gide, is Olivier's "uncle" (through marriage), and in the loss of his beloved nephew opts instead of his schoolfriend, Bernard. The intersections that follow among writing instruction, publishing, entry into adulthood, and sexuality are noteworthy, but not too.

Also noteworthy is the form of this novel. It reads precisely like something out of Austen. Many of the novels are structured around the meeting of two characters. Even the titles indicate such: "Bernard and Olivier", "Vincent Meets Passavant at Lady Griffith's", Bernard Meets Olivier", etc. The novel has that 19th-century breadth of including everyone from the aristocracy to the poor girl pregnant out of wedlock. And this in 1925! The Great Gatsby came out in 1925!

I can't quite figure it out. There's a strong anti-decadent bent in this novel. Robert, the "comte" who drags Olivier to the dark side, is painted as a kind of Wildean figure, which is interesting given the friendship shared between Wilde and Gide. It's only when Olivier realizes he needs to abandon Robert and side himself with a more modernistic writer like his uncle that he is safe. Perhaps Gide's trying to resurrect an approach to the novel the decadents tried to do away with. I mean the novel ends with a boy's accidental suicide, out of the blue. It's practically right out of Dickens, but like act two of Dickens....