NIGHTS IN ARUBA by Andrew Holleran
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Dancer from the Dance (1978) was the best of the gay-lifestyle novels that proliferated in the late 1970s; and in this graceful, low-impact successor, Holleran attempts to combine his wry reportage with the more traditional strengths of family/growing-up fiction. The apparently autobiographical narrator here is a 40-ish N.Y. homosexual named Paul--who, once again on his way to visit his parents in a sleepy Florida town, contemplates his less-than-wonderful life: ""I had arrived at middle age and realized I had made no progress, that the moment was past--just as I would look up from a book I was reading on a Saturday in summer and realize when I saw the clock that the last decent train to the beach had left already. . . ."" Paul recalls his Catholic childhood on the Caribbean isle of Aruba--where his remote father was part of a US business-colony, where his beautiful, bored mother embarrassed young Paul with her mildly libertine ways. . . yet also made him feel a ""cosmic empathy."" He traces his sexual development--from first boarding-school awareness (""I was enthralled by the beauty of men"") to timid involvement with the somewhat flamboyant homosexual U.S. Army contingent in Heidelberg (a raunchily engaging sequence) to the thoroughgoing N.Y. gay lifestyle: the discos, the baths, Central Park trysts, part-time jobs, etc. But, though an enthusiastic pleasure-seeker, Paul also knows himself to be ""a completely conventional person. . . a citizen of a world nothing had prepared for""--longing for a domestic life, depressed to find himself ""ceasing to believe in general in romantic love between two men."" (His one true-love experience is short-lived.) And, through it all, there is always the strong pull to now-puritanical Mother (and another self-image) in Florida. . . though finally, in the novel's awfully wan and predictable fade-out, Paul understands that ""the life I must begin was my own--a separate person's."" Holleran doesn't really elicit much drama or depth from Paul's memoir/introspection--despite the admirable honesty and a few flickers of psychological insight. (Persuasively, if unfashionably, Paul clearly connects his homosexuality to the over-intense mother/son tie.) But, while again capturing the campy desperation of the gay-subculture with edged finesse, Holleran also offers evocative, funny/grim glimpses of homosexuals in relationships with parents--like aging ex-professor William Friel, who treks out to Brooklyn to feed his senile folks (when not dressing as Carmen Miranda). And, if more an engaging mosaic than the shapely fiction it seems to be trying for, this is a strong second novel--confirming Holleran's stylish, precise talents and taking them into personal territory that can be affecting as well as amusing.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1983
ISBN: 0060937343
Publisher: Morrow