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AMERICAN VOYEUR by Benoit Denizet-Lewis

AMERICAN VOYEUR

Dispatches from the Far Reaches of Modern Life

By Benoit Denizet-Lewis

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4165-3915-5
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A collection of short essays about American subcultures by New York Times Magazine contributor Denizet-Lewis (America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life, 2009).

The author first gained recognition for his front-page feature in NYTM about black males in the “down low” culture—masculine, closeted men who indulge their taste for gay sex through secret societies. The full article is included here and supplemented by a shorter piece on white men who have attempted to join the club in recent years. A gay man who looks and dresses younger than his age, the author used these particular traits to gain access to honest interviews from people in a range of off-center groups, ranging from wildly successful preteen extreme athletes to self-proclaimed lipstick lesbians. The book is divided into two sections of eight chapters each, “Youth” and “Sex,” though these themes frequently appear in tandem, as in the essay on the plight of gay homeless youth in San Francisco. The book is similar in intent to Susan Orlean’s The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup (2001), but Denizet-Lewis lacks Orlean’s provocative blend of distance, commentary and wit. The writing style is adequate but does not dazzle, and the author spends too much space on some topics—such as the recent crackdown on drinking in fraternities—at the expense of other subjects that could use more depth of analysis. Although Denizet-Lewis doesn’t fulfill his promise to throw wide the doors on secret, largely sexual subjects, there is enough of the underground and the subversive to pique the casual reader’s interest. Perhaps one of the author’s goals is to show how ordinary many of his supposedly extreme interviewees can be in conversation, which makes the peculiarity of their respective situations seem decidedly less strange. This motivation is a demonstration of integrity in journalism, but it tends to deflate the voyeuristic pleasure for the reader.

Light reading on often heavy topics.