Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Speaking of Edmund White,

if I had been a little more active on FWL lately I might've written about how moved I was by his first memoir, My Lives, which I finally got around to reading this year, although it's almost a decade old. White is meaningful to me because he's one of the first gay novelists I read after coming out. Kevin gave me a copy of his fine novel, The Beautiful Room is Empty, after we'd had at least one heart-to-heart about what was going on with me. Years later when I mentioned it to him he was confused; he thought I'd given him the book. He's always been much more well-read so I think it's safe to say my version is the correct one.

There's a chapter in the book, "My Master," that is extremely raw and revealing, detailing White's relationship as submissive to a much younger actor (for whom he initially wrote his theatrical riff on Timothy McVeigh and Gore Vidal, Terre Haute), a masculine southern narcissist to whom he refers only as "T." White sets up this scene well; he's a self-described sex addict with a predilection for hustlers. With all his sexual adventures, it's astounding he's managed to make the time for such a rich body of work. What's most impressive to me about the story he tells in "My Master" is the candor and depth of feeling he puts on the page. He mentions at the top of the chapter that he's just had his heart broken by T., and you can really tell. Here's a sample passage, describing his abjection after T and he agree to stop seeing each other for a while--
Forty times a day I checked my e-mail, but never a word. On the train back from Princeton I wept openly, the tears flowing down my cheeks uncontrollably. I didn't have a tissue to blow my nose. No one noticed. If they would have they might have thought I was a grandfather mourning the death of his old wife, not an antique libertine bewailing the loss of a hot hard dick.
His sense of humor is welcome, but after reading this chapter I wanted to find him and give him a comforting hug. The writing in "My Master" is strange, sexy, and surprisingly devastating, and most effective on me because I knew exactly where he was coming from as I read it. It's refreshing to read someone so unreservedly expressing such (some would say unflattering) detail, such vulnerability, and to be so relatable while describing such a transgressive relationship.

Perhaps that's one reason why my brief return to Joe Orton's diaries on the occasion of the Taper's production of What the Butler Saw was so jarring to me. Orton's brief, matter-of-fact descriptions of sexual encounters are equally shocking for their lack of warmth. There are obvious moments -- such as his tricking in Leicester after his mother's funeral, for example -- where you see a sex-as-escape pattern about as plainly as possible, but detachment, or even depersonalization, seems the norm for him.

I suppose I'll always be attracted to literary libertines. But I guess these days I'm more impressed by risk and revelation of an emotional sort.

I might write a little more on What the Butler Saw in a bit.

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