John Irving Fond of Well-Written Fiction, That Happens to be Gay


The National Post reports on a recent interview by Nashville Scene with writer John Irving in which the Cider House Rules author John Irving trashes writers J.D. Salinger and Tom Wolfe, but lights up when talking about gay author Edmund White.

BosThe Post‘s report didn’t offer much more so I tracked down the original interview, which offered some interesting insight into Irving and readers of gay fiction.

Said Irving: “I love Edmund White. Every time I read a new book of his, I am reminded of a previous book of his, which I then reread. I’ve interrupted Hotel de Dream to reread White’s novel A Boy’s Own Story, which I love, and White’s autobiography My Lives. He’s a wonderful writer. We’re the same age, and I remember when I first read A Boy’s Own Story—in the early 1980s—and I thought that the novel spoke much more to me about a boy coming of age (even though it’s about a gay boy coming of age, and I’m not gay) than The Catcher in the Rye ever did. I reread The Catcher in the Rye recently, and it doesn’t hold up at all; it’s just not very well, or very consistently, written. But A Boy’s Own Story is beautifully wrought, and fiercely defiant; I could reread that novel every year and find something terrific I had missed in a previous reading. I believe Edmund White is one of the best writers of my generation; he’s certainly the contemporary American writer I reread more than any other, and the one whose next book I look forward to reading most.”


  1. LD says

    John Irving has a gay brother. Not that that has anything to do with Irving’s appreciation of the very excellent E. White, or this story. Or anything.

  2. Rikard says

    Irving’s early work Setting Free The Bears is a buddy story that has some homo undertones, at least for me. I’ll need to re-read it now to see how it holds up 30 years later.

  3. Alex says

    Jeff, me too. Woof!

    But my issue with Irving is having spent some time with his books lately is I get the sense that he’s very full of himself. He knows he’s hot and that can be a bit of a turn off for me.

    But physically, he’s amazing. The face, his height (he’s a shortie! :) ), his body. Yum!

  4. Paul R says

    I had a (female) friend who was Irving’s live-in assistant for a semester in college. She said he was very bright and, as noted, full of himself. But then, perhaps that’s a right of talented, attractive people, as long as it’s not too obnoxious. And she said it wasn’t.

    For me Edmund White is someone whose personality impedes my ability to fully enjoy his work. Not only full of himself, but far too eager to share every detail of his sexual life, and in some cases I think he’s received enduring credit for being to first to publish certain material—not the best.

    Interestingly, though, when I came out to my parents, I later found out that my father had then gone to the library and borrowed a few books on the subjects. Among them was A Boy’s Own Life, which I had never read (I was only 16 at the time). I read it, and remember being mortified that my father had read some of the passages. I will give White credit for that book and a few others, as well as a title that sticks in my mind and repeats itself over and over: The Beautiful Room is Empty.

  5. Alex says

    I will admit White’s My Lives had me cringing a bit–particularly the My Master chapter . . . and I am as freethinking and openminded as they come. Ultimately, I respected how naked he was in that piece of writing and it has stayed with me ever since. I don’t think I’ve read anything since that has accurately captured what an affair that completely breaks you down is like. It was very brave of him.

    He does talk alot about his openness and candor. He mentions he is more private in real life and that for some reason he must go to that extreme in his writing. I suppose his love for Proust and Genet (both writers who blurred the lines between memoir and novel) colors this tendency for him.

    I’ve never met him and at one point I knew someone who knew him. I wanted to score an introduction because he’s a massive inspiration to me, but I chickened out.

  6. says

    I’m not always a complete fan of White’s fiction style, particularly when it strays from the autobiographical–like Crispy, I prefer Andrew Holleran’s sensibility–but he’s an undeniably skilled writer, one of our best chroniclers of gay life, sex, AIDS, and aging. I’m glad writers like Irving recognize his universal importance.

    Several years ago, I met an older woman at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and we were talking about favorite writers. I figured we had little in common, then she named White–States of Desire in particular!–as one of hers, and my snobby preconceptions about her tastes were overturned.

    I find White’s writing about his sex life some of his best. He may be narcissistic (as many writers are) but he’s also fearlessly honest and objective–I can’t think of anyone who analyzes the psychology of sex more articulately. I may not be into some of the things he’s into, but I’m always fascinated by the way he dissects his obsessions. He also gives a great interview.

  7. STEVEINBOS says

    My uncle went to college with John Irving and if I have the story right he was a wrestler (a recurring theme in his books); he would “pose” as a nerdy writer, wait for someone to give him a hard time and then kick some ass.

  8. STEVEINBOS says

    My uncle went to college with John Irving and if I have the story right he was a wrestler (a recurring theme in his books); he would “pose” as a nerdy writer, wait for someone to give him a hard time and then kick some ass.

  9. Ted in SF says

    OMG! I have had a crush on Irving since I was in HS, 26 years ago. “The World According to Garp” and “The Hotel New Hampshire” were so funny and sexy and different than my boring lower class existence at the time. I would read all of the interviews with him. He was right up there with Sting on my celebrity fuck list.

    I am not a fan of White’s fiction, but being older now, maybe I will give it a try. I do like his bios of other writers, tho.