Of Monsters and Mad Love

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BOOKS by Edmund White are among those that are still “eagerly awaited” in this post-Gutenberg age, and all at once he has out a new novel and a collection of essays, both published in November 2011.

The novel is called Jack Holmes and His Friend (Bloomsbury USA), and it’s about the relationship between two men—Jack, a gay “libertine,” and a preppy, liberal-minded straight guy, Will Wright—which develops into a conflicted friendship enduring across three decades. In the saga of Jack and Will, White has managed to whip up a bittersweet Nabokovian capriccio in three parts with an epilogue; what’s more, it’s a bona fide page-turner. White’s longtime fans will recognize a semi-biographical resemblance between Jack Holmes and his precursors in the author’s middle-class, Midwestern rubes adrift in an alien society—New York City—and gradually learning the necessary tactics of survival in the swarming urban beehive. White’s keen insights into the dark Eros and messy psychodynamics of frustrated sexual desire, both straight and gay, are woven into this rich, sensuously imagined narrative. The novel covers the decades of the golden Aquarian Age of free love to the dawning era of AIDS.

Sacred Monsters    Also out this past November is a collection of essays titled Sacred Monsters (Magnus Books), which includes more than twenty essays on artists and writers, including Auguste Rodin, John Cheever, Henry James, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, James Merrill, Vladimir Nabokov, Edith Wharton, Christopher Isherwood, Martin Amis, Allen Ginsberg, Marguerite Duras, John Rechy, David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, and E. M. Forster. White’s title refers to the familiar French expression denoting “a venerable or popular celerity so well known that he or she is above criticism, a legend, who despite eccentricities or faults cannot be measured by ordinary standards. Lady Gaga is our newest one.”

    Edmund White spoke with me last November from his home in the Chelsea section of New York City.    — Michael Ehrhardt

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