by Edmund White ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 28, 1982
A novel of sexual awakening--as an unnamed narrator tells of his boyhood desire to love men, but always with the simultaneous wish not to be a homosexual. The first few chapters are strong, with a vivid presentation of the driving forces in the boy's background: his rough, generally absent father; his spoiled, vain, flighty mother; and the boy's own talent for manipulation and betrayal as he realizes that his supposed ""conflict"" about sex isn't really a conflict at all. There are intense testimonies of ardor in the descriptions of boyfriends and hustlers and family opacity. And equally striking is the boy's first real heterosexual crush: a beautiful, accomplished high-school girl--whose possibilities the boy quickly destroys with effusive over-enthusiasm. But, though these boyhood feelings are at first offered in a refreshingly plain manner, White (Forgetting Elena, Nocturnes for the King of Naples) is once again quickly shipwrecked on the rocks of his excruciatingly self-congratulatory style. When, for instance, the boy is about to be punished by his gruff father, he thinks: ""Panic lit up everywhere within me; I longed to run or disappear in a burst of chemical smoke and reappear as a white, frightened animal from under a top hat, gently nibbling at the fumes."" Occasionally this over-dressed prose becomes downright Swinburne-ian: ""The tender white bells of the flower by the rotting stump, the small bright-green cone of the Scots pine--these were confidences placed in me, wordless but as trusting as a dog's eyes."" There are even times when meaning is near-totally obscured: ""She spoke with the lentor of alligators through skeins of Spanish moss white and frangible with death; epochs of pre-history bubbled voluptuously and broke with gluey smackings in the lower regions of her sinister art."" And this irrepressible instinct for the rococo cancels out the modest potential here: a short novel about the intuition of sex as power becomes instead a sticky, verbose exercise.
Pub Date: Sept. 28, 1982
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982
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