White (Jack Holmes and His Friend, 2012, etc.) returns with a playful yet searching novel of gay life in the New York of Ed Koch and Studio 54.
Guy, a plainly named young man, is anything but plain: discovered in Paris, he's at the top of the New York modeling world, and he's seemingly ageless, which works to his advantage not just in that business, but also in attracting a string of well-heeled lovers who are convenient but no paragons of true love—and indeed sometimes repellent (“They were introduced and the baron, ugly as a commissar, held on to Guy’s hand for an uncomfortably long interval”). A bit of an ingénue and a bit of a Candide, Guy is nonetheless a romantic—not exactly a winning outlook in the Fire Island of four decades past, just at the time that sexual abandon is about to give way to the sober, killing realities of AIDS. Writing with wit and gently arch humor, White explores the cultural differences between France and America, and he limns the distinctions between the gay tribes of Christopher Street (“tall, balding, skinny, pale, tattooed, almost as if they were vagrants who slept rough”) and Fire Island (“everyone was in a Speedo pulling a wagon of groceries across the bumpy boardwalk; you couldn’t tell the houseboys from the bankers”), between the Minorites and Athenians and Friends of Dorothy. The story proceeds by means of nicely paced dialogue interspersed with reflection and observation, to say nothing of Guy’s beauty tips—facial isometrics, Retin-A, “a daily glass of fattening orange juice”—as he builds a life in a time when restrictions are few and appetites endless, though one might have trouble feeling sorry for his narrow regime of visits to the gym, Europe, and Saks.
A closely written, multidimensional coming-of-age novel that captures a time of whispers, elaborate codes, and not inconsiderable danger.