Two to Get Ready, Three to Go

22 Feb


In principle every (or many) novels deserve(s) discrete individual consideration—which I normally find easy to to do. Especially as my grasshopper mind rarely operates thematically or surveys a topic. Why am I offering this caveat? Well, in large part because John Irving’s One Person(Simon & Schuster), Edmund White’s Jack Holmes and His Friend(Bloomsbury) and Amber Dement’s The Starboard Sea (St. Martin’s Press) are rife with provocative issues,themes and character studies and it is a minor disservice to simply clump these fine novels in a garden patch of stories dealing with identity and sexuality and the histories of shifting social mores.

John Irving’s One Person will no doubt find it’s own substantial readership> The novel opens:

I’m going to begin by telling you about Miss Frost. While I say to everyone that I became a writer because I read a certain novel by Charles Dickens at the formative age of fifteen, the truth is I was younger than that when I first met Miss Frost and imagined having sex with her, and this moment of my sexual awakening also marked the fitful birth of my imagination. We are formed by what we desire. In less than a minute of excited, secretive longing, I desired to become a writer and to have sex with Miss Frost—not necessarily in that order.

I met Miss Frost in a library. I like libraries, though I have difficulty pronouncing the word—both the plural and the singular. It seems there are certain words I have considerable trouble pronouncing: nouns, for the most part—people, places, and things that have caused me preternatural excitement, irresolvable conflict, or utter panic. Well, that is the opinion of various voice teachers and speech therapists and psychiatrists who’ve treated me—alas, without success. In elementary school, I was held back a grade due to “severe speech impairments”—an overstatement. I’m now in my late sixties, almost seventy; I’ve ceased to be interested in the cause of my mispronunciations. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but fuck the etiology.)

I don’t even try to say the etiology word, but I can manage to struggle through a comprehensible mispronunciation of library or libraries—the botched word emerging as an unknown fruit. (“Liberry,” or “liberries,” I say—the way children do.)

Suffice it to remark that One Person’s opening quickly elicited my commitment to reading (and completing) the booK.

Edmund White attaches to a well-regarded bibliography including the definitive biography of French outlaw playwright Jean Genet, though I don’t suppose that Genet’s repertoire is much performed these days.which may or may not make him a relic of a more iconoclastic time .His newest opus The London Sunday Times summarizes:

Jack Holmes and His Friend is an intimate and moving study of unrequited love, but also a comedy of sexual manners and a panoramic novel of society, all achieved in a rangy, full-throated prose. The novel traces the friendship of Jack Holmes and Will Wright over two decades, from the sexual revolution of the early 1960s to the Aids epidemic of the early 1980s, alternating between the two main characters’ perspectives, with Jack’s narrated in the third person, and Will’s in the first.

Its possible that White falling under the inadequate rubric of “gay” writer has ghettoized his audience or been ghettoized by literary gatekeepers. Which is a disfavor to a very fine writer. Marty Amis opines:

Edmund White’s startling perceptions of American society are here deployed to dazzling effect, as character after character is delicately and colorfully rendered and one social milieu after another brought vividly to life. White is a connoisseur of the nuances of personality and mood, and here unveils his very human cast in all their radical individuality. With fabulously on target insights, narrative daring and a gifted sense of the rueful rough-and-tumble of life, Jack Holmes and His Friend is a beautifully sculpted exploration of sexuality and sensibility.

Edmund White has three voices. First there is the storyteller, relaxed, conversational, an anecdotalist, an inspired flaneur. Then there is the poet: on every page there lies in wait a metaphor of startling precision, an image that holds and reattracts the eye. And then there is the laic philosopher, who observes human life from the highest altitudes, held aloft by vast infusions of erudition and experience. In Jack Holmes and His Friend, White’s trio is in frictionless accord

Apropos of nothing, the book cover makers good use of a Walker Evans photograph. Kudos to the designer, Evan Gaffney.


The Starboard Sea marks the debut offering of Amber Dement who although not having attended the Iowa City bastion of creative writing instruction has a number of its well known notables lauding her talents on the book’s dust-jacket—things called “blurbs” which still the target of essays by bored writers.

The publisher’s description of The Starboard Sea has the earmarks of a throw away line, ” … powerful first novel about life and death, friendship and love, as one young man must navigate the depths of his emotions.” The story does focus on a short window of years in the life of Manhattan preppie Jason Proper
which appear to include more sturm und drag than most teenagers encounter in their heretofore abbreviated lives.Experiences and characters which Ms Dement handles with a graceful dexterity. Adolescent though he may be,Jason’s difficulties and crises are as adult as they can be. This book deserves a wider audience than history would suggest is the fate of debut novels. We’ll see, huh.

Currently reading The Reconstructionists by Nick Arvin (Harper Perennial)

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