CARACOLE by Edmund White


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Gay erotica, supersaturated with excruciating narcissism, in stupefyingly sticky, clotted writing. In his earlier novels (A Boy's Own Story, Nocturnes for the King of Naples, Forgetting Elena), White might occasionally--not often!--put a rock down for the battered reader to stand on for a moment to get his bearings. In Caracole, designed as a myth, the restraints are off and voluptuous verbosity is encouraged to prance and turn at its honeyed whim. The story begins with acne-disfigured Gabriel, a teen-ager (at 17 still ""a boy""), who lives in a decaying house named Madder Pink and who massages his massive, drunken, naked mother's back and breasts until her ""skin glistend like pie dough too long on the slab."" Then he goes out and gallops about the countryside on his stick-horse, which he calls Curfew. He meets his first love, Angelica, a girl who comes from tribal folk who live in a marsh and she is all baby-fat and smoking a long-stemmed pipe (""her hair swarmed over her face like bees suspended outside the hive their queen has elected to abandon""), and ""she actually reached out and touched the mound of bulging muscle below his fly buttons. 'Why leave when this is so hard?' Her small fingers undid the buttons patiently; she looked up at him. He had not seen clearly the moment when someone else would take up his weapon, nor was he certain it should be handed over to anyone else, since he liked the way it responded to his own touch."" Angelica introduces him to her tribal queen who gives him--yes--a mudpack that makes him handsome. He awakens under flying cherubs in a pink-and-green bedroom as a kind of prisoner in his perfumed Uncle Mateo's palace. He takes as his lover his uncle's crippled friend Mathilde, who teaches him variations of adult lovemaking while her friend Daniel takes Gabriel out nightly for opium. Meanwhile, Mateo educates Angelica, who practices her sexual politics on him as he becomes her lover. The actress Edwige teaches Gabriel anal love: "". . .she looked at his dunged and still erect penis. She said, 'There! I told you not to sneak into mother's fudge!'"" But Edwige eventually has her head blown off at a masked bali in the capital, which in a queer way makes Gabriel into a recognized patriot. . . Humorless navel fancies as White hits bottom.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1985
ISBN: 067976416X
Publisher: Dutton