Edmund White Hub




Michael Carroll’s ‘Little Reef And Other Stories’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

The characters in the moving, innovative stories of Michael Carroll’s debut collection always find themselves just to the side of the world’s attention. In the beautiful “Referred Pain,” the lonely wife of a famous writer entertains graduate students desperate for his approval. In “Barracuda,” a young woman working at a PR firm meets the pop star who is their biggest client. In all of these stories, Carroll explores, with confidence and humanity, lives torn between awareness of all they have and bitter grasping for what they still want.

Little ReefIn the first of the book’s two sections (largely set in Florida), New York City represents the success that the characters long for. In “From the Desk of…Hunter B. Gwathmey,” the book’s first story, a young writer wins a high school writing contest and meets the local literati. For all that at first they strike him as glamorous, he soon realizes they aren’t living the kind of life he hopes for. “I hated Jacksonville, but then it occurred to me, in a sickening, sneak-preview-of-real-life type of revelation, that not everybody could live in New York, and that even some smart, talented people ended up having to make do in the provinces.”

It’s a realization that haunts this collection and its various talented, almost successful characters. “Not everyone was going to be successful,” Carroll writes at one point, “and it was cruel to ask them to try to be.”

Much of the pleasure of the book’s first half lies in Carroll’s depiction of the south. “Florida was a nutty business,” Carroll writes, and he excels at capturing the bizarre mix of awkward politeness and hysteria that characterizes so much of the southern manner. These stories offer one of the most convincing representations I’ve seen of southern speech—not by mimicking accent or dialect, but by tracing the shape of southern talk, with its suspensions and redirections, its sudden fits and starts.

The unpredictable drift of southern conversation may lie behind the unconventional shape of many of these stories. In an interview with the writer Andrew Holleran, Carroll speaks about his desire to break free of the traditional structure of the short story, in which rising action leads to climax, resolution, and epiphany or realization. Instead, he allows his stories to find their way in a looser, less predetermined way, allowing for sudden juxtapositions and unexpected turns and constant, vivifying surprise.

MichaelCarrollIt also allows for the emergence of what may be Carroll’s greatest strength, his ability to inhabit the deep consciousness of his characters. “What was writing except a direct line into someone’s head,” the wife in “Referred Pain” muses, and what makes Carroll’s characters so vivid is the access we’re given to their experience of their own lives.

And so, in “Referred Pain,” when the protagonist has an affair with one of her husband’s students, we experience it with an intimacy beyond mere explicitness: “He dropped his head next to hers and drove the side of his face into the pillow looking the other way. Her hand motions got wider and she felt his thighs relaxing and when he rose up she kissed his chest, too desperately, she thought. You didn’t do anything too desperate, so then she cooled off, tried to make a joke, yet keeping her hands near him.”

This experience of consciousness is nowhere more intense, and nowhere more moving, than in the five linked stories that make up the book’s second half. Each of these stories, which are told in both first and third person, centers on an aspiring writer who is in a long-term partnership, then marriage, with an older, much more successful novelist whose health is in decline.

In everything we learn about their lives, and also in the description Carroll offers of the older writer’s work, we’re invited to imagine that these characters are thinly disguised versions of Carroll and the legendary writer Edmund White, whom Carroll recently married after a relationship of nearly two decades. Like White, the fictional Perry has suffered a series of strokes, and his younger partner, who has spent years preparing manuscripts and keeping house, finds himself increasingly taking on the role of nurse.

“My job was to shop and cook and clean,” says Scott, the younger member of the couple in these stories, “and his was to create.” It’s easy to hear bitterness in the line, and these stories are extraordinarily candid in their depiction of a loving but not easy relationship. “There was no plan for who we were. Night was long for us. We’d go to bed separately. I read, which had become my coping strategy. I could live with him as long as we slept separately.” 

And yet what’s clearest in the stories of Scott and Perry, especially in the extraordinary “Admissions,” is their care for one another, and Scott’s terror at the prospect of an unbearable loss. It’s this terror—the awareness of death—that gives these stories their moral force, and that translates the grasping for fame or achievement into a profounder struggle. And it’s love that finally allows Carroll’s characters to escape—only for a time, but no less authentically for that—from their self-made prisons of jadedness and need.

Invoking the southern religious language that haunts these pages (“One day the Bible would have no effect on Scott at all. But not yet”), the protagonist of “Barracuda” casts a bit of hope in the way of her gorgeous, promising, limited friends: “From emotional midgets—too beautiful to live inside their awfully conflicted selves—sometimes came great, kind gestures, and perhaps they, too, would be saved. Despite their sweet bastard selves.”

Previous reviews...
Francine Prose’s ‘Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932’
Mark Gevisser’s ‘Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir’
Emma Donoghue’s ‘Frog Music’
Tatamkhulu Afrika’s ‘Bitter Eden’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Faber/FSG in May 2015. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Edmund White’s ‘Inside A Pearl: My Years In Paris’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Reading Edmund White’s fascinating, vital new memoir, which covers the fifteen years he spent in France in the 1980s and 90s, feels a little like attending the world’s most fabulous cocktail party. The pages are filled with impossibly glamorous people doing impossibly glamorous things, from literary lights like Susan Sontag and Julian Barnes and Alan Hollinghurst, to celebrities of a different stratosphere, like Lauren Bacall and Tina Turner and Yves Saint Laurent.

Inside a PearlAt the center of it all is White, who for four decades has been, in both fiction and nonfiction, our preeminent chronicler of gay life. When the period covered by Inside a Pearl begins, in 1983, White has just published his classic novel A Boy’s Own Story, and he arrives in Paris armed with that success, as well as high school French and sixteen thousand dollars from a Guggenheim Fellowship.

He’s wonderful at describing the disorientation of those first months, and especially at conveying linguistic struggles that will be familiar to anyone who has lived abroad: “After I’d present my own carefully displayed sentence like a diamond necklace on black velvet, the other speaker, the French person, would throw his sentence at me like a handful of wet sand. It would sting so badly that I’d wince, and an instant later I would wonder what had just happened to me.”

White quickly finds his feet in Paris, working for Vogue, learning the language, and writing his books, among them a brilliant biography of the gay novelist Jean Genet. Nor were all of his pursuits literary: as in all of his work, White speaks with breathtaking candor in these pages about his sexual life, including innumerable tricks and a number of longer affairs. He can be deliriously indiscreet, as when he talks of first meeting the great British novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, when the two of them quickly found themselves “sniffing each other’s genitals like dogs.”

Inside a Pearl has a loose, associative structure, and you may find yourself frustrated if you read it looking for a clear narrative organizing the book. Instead, there are many small narratives, wonderful anecdotes and asides and ruminations. White refers to himself at one point as an “archaeologist of gossip,” and the book might best be approached as a collection of particularly inspired gossip: sometimes a bit scandalous, almost always good-hearted, and thoroughly entertaining.

This isn’t to say that the book lacks pathos or weight. White weathers the most intense period of the AIDS crisis in Paris, and while he writes that he hoped to find there “an AIDS holiday, a recess from the emergencies of the disease,” he instead finds that “Death was my constant shadow.” One of the founders of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, as well as its first president, White received his own diagnosis in Europe, when he and his lover at the time got tested together. His lover was negative, White was positive; the night after learning his status, he was “in anguish and couldn’t sleep, not because I was afraid of dying but because I knew my wonderful adult romance…was doomed.”

The book’s most moving sequence tells the story of White’s relationship with Hubert Sorin, whom he fictionalized in his novels The Farewell Symphony and The Married Man. When Hubert becomes ill, White cares for him through an agonizing decline. Not least among the torments of White’s long vigil over Hubert’s dying is the fear that he might himself have infected his lover. (Doctors eventually reassure White that this wasn't the case.) Though only a few pages long, White’s account of his final trip with Hubert to Morocco, during which Hubert collapses and eventually dies in a clinic where the hostile nurses are amused by his “pitiful state,” is a devastating portrait of grief.

While White writes both movingly and amusingly of his lovers, his real genius is for friendship, and it’s the portrait of a great friend that spans the book and gives it its greatest sense of coherence. White first met Marie-Claude de Brunhoff in 1975, and it’s her friendship that he credits with his discovery of France. Witty, insecure, elegant, Marie-Claude—“MC,” as White calls her—is a recurring presence in the memoir, as White helps her survive her abandonment by her husband (Laurent de Brunhoff, who continued the Babar books begun by his father) and remains at her side as she battles, at first successfully, the cancer that on its return would cause her death in 2008.

Edmund_white_0MC is an artist—she makes Joseph Cornell-like boxes—but it’s her person and her life that White admires as her greatest creation. In the book’s first paragraph, he says that on their first meeting she “gleamed like the inside of a nautilus shell,” an image that echoes the memoir’s title. It also echoes an idea of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, whom White knew: at the end of his life, White writes, Foucault came to believe that “the basis of morality after the death of God might be the ancient Greek aspiration to leave your life as a beautiful, burnished artifact.”

It’s an appealing idea to anyone who has spent his life, as White has, in the service of art. Inside a Pearl is a beautiful, hugely endearing, often brilliant book, a worthy record of White’s attempt to be true to what he sees as the several purposes of his life: “to teach, to trick, to write, to memorialize, to be a faithful scribe, to record the loss of my dead.”

Previous reviews...
Randall Mann’s ‘Straight Razor’
Janette Jenkins’ ‘Firefly’
Gengoroh Tagame’s ‘The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame’
Jason K. Friedman’s ‘Fire Year’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. He is currently an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Author Edmund White Suffers Stroke

Legendary gay author Edmund White (A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty, The Farewell Symphony) suffered a stroke earlier this month according to a notice to friends on his Facebook page, dictated to his partner Michael Carroll. Carroll indicated that the information could be made public.

WhiteThe setback is apparently the second for the writer, the first having happened last Thanksgiving in Providence.

Of the more recent stroke, Carroll writes:

A word from Ed and me:

Forgive my neglect in reporting on Ed. Ed's condition is more serious than before but his improvement is remarkable on a daily basis. I'm busy but not as busy as the first time around since he's in an excellent facility getting great care and being forced through a great number of daily therapies. He can now raise his right arm fluidly and unhaltingly and his speech is more and more articulate. I'm grateful that it occurred in the hospital, though I do believe they dawdled a bit in getting him stroke-specific treatment. More on that later.

Ed says, "I'm already reviewing a book and thinking about completing my memoir. I'm 2/3 through and hope to finish it in November, even if I have to dictate to Michael Carroll."

xoMC & EW

Towleroad wishes Ed White the best in his recovery.


Edmund White writes of the Crisco-Slathered Gay 70's in City Boy

Cityboy

City Boy, Edmund White's new memoir of life in New York around the time of Stonewall gets a review in the NYT.

Writes White: "I was a living contradiction. I was still a self-hating gay man going to a straight psychotherapist with the intention of getting cured and getting married. There was no ‘gay pride’ back then — there was only gay fear and gay isolation and gay distrust and gay self-hatred."

From Dwight Garner's review:

Orgies; leather bars; tabs of LSD; sex on the balconies of gay dance halls, in the abandoned piers along the Hudson River and in the dunes on Fire Island; group sex with American Indians and Norwegian flight attendants from Minnesota — it’s all here in exacting and eye-popping detail. He captures the “odor of brew, harness, sweat and Crisco” that began to fill gay men’s nostrils in the mid-’70s.

Mr. White was a kind of sexual werewolf. As midnight approached, he says, “my hands began to sprout hair, and my teeth to sharpen.” He sleeps with so many well-known writers and artists that this crackling if lightweight memoir can read less like a prelude to “And the Band Played On,” Randy Shilts’s stately book about the early days of AIDS, than an all-boy update of “I’m With the Band,” Pamela Des Barres‘s trippy and picaresque rock groupie memoir.

He describes a quickie with the travel writer Bruce Chatwin here; a three-way with the poet John Ashbery there. The notches Mr. White claims on his bedpost are vast and crisscrossing, and he likes to run his fingers along them in wistful horndog memory.

Sounds like a page-turner.

Also of note: Marriage equality supporter and devoted fan John Irving supplies the book's cover blurb: "A wise and humane treatise on the delicate differences between love and friendship."

City Boy [amazon]


News: Connecticut, Milky Way, Cheeto, Edmund White, The Killers

 roadConnecticut Governor Jodi Rell signs marriage equality bill: "Rell this afternoon signed Senate Bill 899, which incorporates the findings of the Kerrigan case into Connecticut statutes. That ruling, handed down by the state Supreme Court in October, paved the way for same-sex marriage. Both the House and the Senate spent hours yesterday debating Senate Bill 899, which passed only after an amendment was added that provides an exemption to groups who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

Milkyway  roadThe giant dust cloud at the heart of the Milky Way tastes vaguely like raspberries, smells like rum, scientists think.

 roadGizmodo blogger eats world's largest Cheeto - WATCH.

 roadAlabama House passes resolution in support of Miss California: "The House approved the resolution Thursday by Republican Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery on a voice vote...Love said Prejean stuck to her convictions even if it meant losing the pageant."

 roadGays vs gays on Jamaica boycott: "J-FLAG Programs Manager Jason McFarlane took particular exception to the boycott of Red Stripe beer, saying the brewer has 'unequivocally distanced itself from the hostility and violence typical of Jamaican music towards members of the LGBT community.'"

 roadMomentum in Utah for same-sex marriage, or just optimism?

 roadJesus Luz and Madonna back together.

 roadThe new video from Green Day.

 roadActivists gather strength in Mumbai to pressure politicians to decriminalize homosexuality: "At a 'People's Panchayat' in the capital on resisting stigma and homophobia, the activists said political parties, which have mindset dating back to years, need to wake up to the existence of sexual minorities or face electoral boycott from the estimated four crore population."

Schwarz  roadModeling: Waifs out, muscles in.

 roadLesbian assaulted at Nairobi bar. Kenyan gays demand protection.

 roadAnti-gay forces storm parliament in Uganda.

 roadHow Lorenzo Martone proposed to Marc Jacobs.

 roadStonewall Library and Archive celebrates grand opening in Fort Lauderdale: "In decades past, when gay residents wanted to find books about their community they had to borrow from friends or from a closet where some were stored at a gay-friendly church. The new location is a sign of how mainstream the gay community has become in Broward: the gay library shares a building with a county library and ArtServe and is situated on the edge of a city park where children play ball and seniors gather for tennis lessons. Jack Rutland, library executive director, lauded the city and county for entering a partnership to make the library possible. 'Imagine me saying that 20 years ago,' Rutland said."

 roadJustin Timberlake and Jimmy Kimmel have a golf cuddle.

 roadThe Killers planning release of live DVD and cover album?

 roadJulia Allison blabs about a "screaming match" between Rosie O'Donnell and Kelli.

White  roadEdmund White on Amazon: "I don't think it was a glitch. It's shocking that someone in that organization has the power to [get rid of] gay books. All my own books were [also] affected. I wrote in my name [on Amazon] last week and A Boy's Own Story wasn't there! Only four of my 22 books were there. It was astonishing. Frankly, if one of the custodians of Western culture is a corporation like Amazon, perhaps they should be regulated like the financial world. We need regulation in the cultural world too so that they don't restrict anything, like Amazon did."

 roadCan D.C. clergy stop same-sex marriage vote?

 roadU R GAY: Hamline Univeristy in St. Paul, Minnesota sees anti-gay graffiti.

 roadPedro Almodovar developing Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown into a TV series: "Fox TV Studios is developing the English-language hourlong project and has tapped Mimi Schmir to pen the pilot script. Almodovar and Schmir are exec producing...Almodovar will be very involved in "Women," which will be developed with an eye for the international market."

 roadPhotographer David LaChapelle lists Hollywood Hills home for $1.65 million.



John Irving Supports Marriage Equality in Letter to Edmund White

Johnirving

As I post this, the debate over same-sex marriage is underway in the Vermont House.

Via Rex Wockner comes this letter heterosexual author and Vermont resident John Irving sent to his friend, the gay author Edmund White. White told Wockner that Irving wanted it to be made public. You may remember an item I posted in January in which Irving expressed his admiration for White's writing.

Here's the letter:

White Dear Edmund:

It's interesting that, as you and I are comparing our calendars to see when we might get together in Vermont -- and while we are both engaged in overseeing the editing and copy-editing phase of our new books -- my fellow Vermonters are deciding the fate of a gay marriage bill, which I very much support, and which has been supported by the Vermont State Senate (by a wide margin).

Some years ago, I was an outspoken opponent of my fellow Democrat, Sen. Peter Shumlin -- then and now, the President of the Vermont Senate -- on an issue having nothing to do with gay marriage. (It was a tax issue, and a school issue, called Act 60, and the disagreement between Sen. Shumlin and myself was very public. It was unfortunate, too, because we were friends -- formerly neighbors in Putney --and the issue was very divisive.) Not so now, when Sen. Shumlin and I are allies on the gay marriage issue; Peter Shumlin's statements in support of gay marriage have been clear, fair, and admirable -- and I've told him so. Gay rights have long been the "new" -- as we both know, truly not so new -- civil rights. It is heartening to see that the Vermont Senate thinks so.

Continued, AFTER THE JUMP...

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