queer

Exploring Queer Lives: By Nightfall

By Nightfall novel jacket black tulip facing downThe Hours novel jacket

Michael Cunningham’s  By Nightfall is a gorgeously written novel that reveals the inner life of Peter, an art dealer and gallery owner in his 40’s who finds himself powerfully drawn to his wife’s beautiful, directionless  younger brother.  Michael Cunningham is the prize-winning author of many novels, including The Hours, which he has described as a tribute to Virginia Woolf.  Here a similar stream of consciousness style lets the reader live through Peter’s emotional earthquake and its surprising aftermath. 

Although the central tension comes from a man’s attraction to another man, By Nightfall is not about “being gay”. Gender as a factor of desire is a fascinating aspect of the story, evoking many speculations. It’s a story about a person who contemplates abandoning his life's work and partner for a brief affair with a wild card visitor, one who evokes associations with past passions.  It’s a story about the New York art world, artists and gallery owners, real genius and manufactured artistic product.  It’s a story about the art of life, chaos and craft, manipulation and spontaneity, and the precarious balance between them.  If there is such a thing as “post-gay”, By Nightfall exemplifies it with seamless integration of queerness into the human narrative.

 

Memoir or Fiction: Exploring Queer Lives

A beautiful young man pursues sex, love and a modeling career in the exhilarating and heartbreaking gay circles of New York City circa the 1970s and 1980s. Fiction or memoir? Why not both? The authors are celebrated writers in the LGBTQ community known for their achievements in the fields of literature, memoir and biography: Edmund White and Brad Gooch.

Our Young Man by Edmund White, clearly a modern take on The Picture of Dorian Gray, paints a rather bland portrait of Guy, a French model who does not seem to age as he partakes in the gay whirl of New York, Fire Island, and Paris. Guy is remote, almost untouchable; failing as a boy-toy, trying again as the trophy partner of a wealthy older man, and playing the fool for a young ne’er-do-well who ends up in prison.  While surrounded by beauty, money, desire and success, Guy seems to be a stereotype of the shallow model, never really rising above a vaguely misanthropic irritability.  All around him AIDS rages, and he finds himself caring for his dying older partner, and then entangled with a younger one. Despite having all the right ingredients for a moving and exciting tale, the novel portrays a man who seems bloodless, his beautiful exterior a passport into a world he can’t fully feel. Perhaps a stunned survivor of these decades would require a measured distance to tell such a tale. 

Smash Cut : a Memoir of Howard & Art & the '70s & the '80s by Brad Gooch details his real-life love story with Howard Brookner, a film maker, in the artistic crucible of New York in the 70’s and 80’s. It is more than lust at first sight. The two pursue their creative endeavors in a shared life full of art, parties, sex, drugs, and long letters to each other; hobnobbing with notables like William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe and Madonna. The bittersweet wisdom of hindsight permeates Brad’s memories. He casts his own successful modeling career as the villain that comes between the lovers, with a minor role for Howard’s drug use. Like most great love stories, this is a tragedy. Howard contracts HIV; Brad doesn’t. In this confessional yet crafted tale, I found the juice that seemed missing from Our Young Man. I felt like I knew the author by the end of this book, or at least the Brad Gooch that stood at his lover’s graveside and wept, and I shed a tear with him.

Have you ever read a novel that led you into the biography section of the library, or visa versa? Leave us a comment or recommendation.

(Note: Smash cut is available through Link+ until a copy is received for OPL's collection.)

Photo of Brad Gooch from NYTimes Review April 2015