Eight elegantly styled but listless stories of gay life from the late 1940s to the mid-’50s.
There’s an air of nostalgia to these half-century-old tales, which frequently touch on the theme of childhood innocence lost. “Three Stratagems,” set in Key West, is related in two distinct voices: that of a young male prostitute looking for the perfect fool, and of the rich, middle-aged widower who falls for him. Michael is well-mannered enough to be taken for a Princeton graduate, but experienced enough to recognize that plenty of people “enjoy their own degradation.” Mr. Royal, who meets Michael on the beach and asks him to dine in his hotel suite that evening, senses he’s on the make but wants desperately to believe that this attractive young man is for real. “The Robin” brings the narrator back to the time he was a nine-year-old D.C. schoolboy enthralled by torture and violence, while “A Moment of Green Laurel,” which takes place during a presidential inauguration, follows the adult narrator’s wistful return to his childhood home in Washington, now occupied by another family. In “The Zenner Trophy,” a scandal involving two boys at an exclusive prep school threatens the buttoned-up administration, though it hardly fazes the star athlete in question, whose intrepid determination actually shames his interrogating official. The longest story, “Pages from an Abandoned Journal,” chronicles the narrator’s fashionable travels among pockets of gay friends in Europe and his strange, unsettling acquaintance with legendary “courtesan” Elliott Magren in Paris. The previously unpublished title story chillingly delineates a 14-year-old boy’s resolve to kill himself and thereby attain sainthood.
While occasionally truncated, these stories showcase Vidal’s stylistic authority.