Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nights with "Andrew" Holleran

During a recent vacation in Truro, I happened to pick up the copy of Nights in Aruba that I had read when it first came out in paperback twenty-six years ago. Anything after Dancer from the Dance, the great American gay novel, would have been somewhat disappointing. Aruba was more so. But as I began re-reading it, I was reminded what a very good writer Holleran is and was caught up in his Proustian reminiscence. Maybe some intolerance, some moralizing, some political correctness had—as it has—prevented me from doing this novel justice. After a few chapters, however, when "Andrew" (as we might say "Marcel") has arrived in Manhattan and begun the infamous Holleran mope, the remembrance of books read, like a tisane-sopped madeleine, became overpowering. You want to shake him and scream GET A LIFE! Neither "Andrew" nor Holleran is unperceptive of his condition. That oddly makes it worse. There's no distancing the character from the author, nor the author from the person. And we know now, which we blessedly didn't twenty-six years ago, that this saga will continue, through the interminable Beauty of Men to the gratefully brief Grief.

"Andrew" it turns out isn't the narrator's name. We learn very late in the book that it is "Paul." There's a host of characters whose names we learn only very late in the book. Poor editing and multiple revisions? Or is this adult baptism (a thing Lady Bracknell called "grotesque and irreligious") a deeper symptom of Paul's inability to come out to his hyperduliated mother.

More pertinently peculiar is that despite Paul's devotion to the beauty of men—that's what his life in Manhattan, indeed on Earth, has been all about—we get no descriptions of beauty in men, or beautiful men, or beautiful parts of men, or parts of beautiful men. Not that Holleran isn't long on descriptions: numerous sunsets and church services are endlessly described. Similarly (?), in spite of all the sex Paul has, no sex act nor aspect of any sex act is described. To speak it is to confess it? That's what Paul's life seems to say. So long as his homosexuality remains unspoken, he need never worry about his mother hearing of it.

I'm looking forward to my next re-reading of Dancer from the Dance because it's not obvious to me where "Andrew" (to use a generic for all the narrators in the last three autobiographical novels) comes from. Though there are first-person pentimenti in Dancer, they seem as puzzling and inconsequential as those in Madame Bovary. I wonder what happened to Holleran that he gave up the discipline (?) of the third-person to wallow as he has since in the mope of the first.

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