Reduced to a shadow of his former self in imitating Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Self (How the Dead Live, 2000) vaults into life’s viscera to lampoon England’s upper crust while skipping across the art/drug/gay culture on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dorian Gray this time around is initially the independently wealthy plaything of a video-installation artist, Baz, whose work Cathode Narcissus, with its iterated imagery of Dorian in the buff, is the combined product of Baz’s drooling passion for his subject and of a drug-laced modeling session. But Baz’s aristo friend and drug benefactor Henry Wotton also takes a guiding hand in Dorian’s development, and in the process a lascivious monster is born. Dionysian debaucheries consume Wotton and his coterie, culminating in a party to celebrate Baz’s installation, now in Dorian’s house, at which Herman, a homeless black hunk Dorian fancies, is so thoroughly used that he immediately goes back to his squat and ODs. A decade later, Baz, Wotton, and Dorian are all HIV-positive, the first two having already started their death spirals. Dorian, however, is still in the lip-smacking bloom of his youth (although something uncanny is happening to his image on the Narcissus videotapes); as Baz visits Wotton in a London AIDS ward, he recounts his adventures with Dorian in 1980s Manhattan, where the golden boy became the toast of the town while Baz kicked his drug habit. Dorian reenters their lives at a dinner party soon thereafter, but that same night Baz is butchered by the man he adored. Other grisly murders follow, as Dorian fights to protect his secret, but Wotton lingers on against all odds. He finally succumbs, though—leaving behind the manuscript that was the novel thus far, a work that triggers a startling transformation in Dorian when it comes into his hands.
Works of art may overcome the living here, but artifice and insufferable blather do the job on its reader.