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 The late performance artist (Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, not reviewed), made famous by Jesse Helms, left these 40-plus short monologues--all of them written before his work became focused on his struggle with AIDS. Despite the argument advanced by Tony Kushner's politically hysterical introduction, these voices from the dark side needn't be ``authentic'' to have value as literature. Their similarity in syntax and design in fact suggest the controlling medium of Wojnarowicz, who romanticizes the down and out: the boy hustlers, junkies, alcoholics, crazies, whores, truckers, and hobos who relate their anecdotes of infamy in these relentlessly seedy narratives. The sex is mostly gay and anonymous. One man finds purity in such encounters by the Hudson River; another describes sex with a legless Vietnam vet; yet another takes advantage of a sick teenager who had previously resisted anal sex; a runner meets two drug-taking priests who talk about the size of various men they've had; a boy fades in and out of consciousness as he's being brutally raped by a sadist; another boy entertains a masochist; and a fellow describes the joys of naked boxing. The boys ``hustlin the Square'' describe the changes in Times Square johns; the whores tell of violent customers and corrupt cops. Winos and junkies, meanwhile, babble about all sorts of things, and a night watchman records his sad marital history. Truckers remember the golden age of hoboes, and a hobo talks of using trickery to commit his wife to an insane asylum. Many of these figures spin swift tales of deceit and deception, such as the boy who discovers that his movie-balcony pick-up is really a pre-op transsexual. Little attention is paid to place in these quick takes, and the speakers don't have much time to develop individuality, creating a certain flattening effect overall. If Studs Terkel covered the Jean Genet beat, the result might be something like these oral snippets, more sad than shocking.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8021-1585-3
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996


NonfictionFIRE IN THE BELLY by Cynthia Carr
by Cynthia Carr