The second installment of American novelist Plante’s memoir (Becoming a Londoner, 2013, etc.) of his long love affair with Nikos Stangos (1936-2004), the Greek-born editor of the publishing house Thames and Hudson.
In this elegant follow-up to Becoming a Londoner, the author concentrates on the 1980s, moving among London, Italy, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Deaths among his gay community from HIV/AIDS were just becoming a creeping, recurring reality in Plante’s diary, which he kept dutifully during his life with Stangos. Since the mid-1960s, the two had cultivated a deep friendship with poet Stephen Spender and his Russian wife, Natasha. They benefitted from Spender’s stellar social connections with artists like David Hockney and moved in a tight artistic circle in London and New York as well as Lucca, Italy, where Plante and Stangos lived together. The worldly Spender (in his 70s) appears here infatuated with a young American student, and their correspondence was strictly kept from his wife by using Plante and Stangos as go-betweens. Plante, in his mid-40s, also battled duel affections—e.g., for his former Turkish lover who lived in New York and died shockingly of AIDS; and successful American artist Jennifer Bartlett, about whom Plante was truly conflicted. Both relationships caused Stangos terrible agonies of jealousy, while Stangos’ flirtation with a young man in his publishing office greatly affected Plante. The most engaging moments in the book chronicle the time when the author shared a house in Tulsa with prickly Australian critic Germaine Greer and they both got jobs teaching at the University of Tulsa. Also entertaining is Plante’s anecdote about when he was asked by acquaintance Philip Roth to accompany him to Israel to research a new novel. Full of questions about Plante’s non-Jewishness and sexuality, Roth may have used Plante as a model for his goyish character in The Counterlife (1986).
An understated, observant, and earnest memoir from an acclaimed novelist.