Sunday, January 13, 2019
Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
This epic presents the arc of English gay history from the 1940s to 2012, particularly the changing attitudes of the British public toward the LGBT community during that time. The story covers three generations of friends who meet at Oxford in 1940, and the people who come into and go out of their lives. These characters have affairs with each other, go to war, marry, divorce, remarry, raise children, all within the backdrop of dealing with bigotry and intimidation.
Although the title is named for David Sparsholt, the protagonist turns out to be David’s son, Johnny Sparsholt, who shows up in part two. Much of the story is Johnny having to deal with living with the shame that his father’s affair with another man became a national news scandal. In fact, Dave Sparsholt is almost always seen through the eyes of other characters rather than being on the page himself.
The core of enjoyment for me was the gorgeous language and detailed writing style the author brings to all his works. Hollinghurst is a master of the written word, and that shows in every paragraph.
That said, I (and several others in my book club) felt that much of the story was too slow paced, to the point of being boring. There is very little conflict throughout the story, and what there is tends to be very subtle. It was a struggle to finish it.
The Sparsholt Affair is not for the lazy reader. It is a complex story where many blanks are given for the reader to fill in. The author adroitly captures the lives of gay men, from the longing of adolescence to the acceptance of old age. It is a story beautifully told.
Monday, December 31, 2018
Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Tiny Fox Press (sept. 2018)
This novel begs the question: Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? And also: Be careful what you wish for.
Gilbert Eugene Rose is a single, lonely drag queen who sings both cabaret and operatic numbers at a New York City nightclub. His drag name, Kiri De Uwana, is a takeoff from an opera diva because he has aspirations of one day becoming a star on the grand operatic stage. A psychic medium puts Gilbert’s love and career yearnings out into the universe, and within days Gil lands the lead role as a soprano in a production of Così fan tutte. Before Gil—or the reader—can catch his breath, Gil lands a tenor role across town in Rigoletto. To top it off, he is also hired to sing Handel arias at a notorious gangster’s private home. But the fun really begins when it seems everyone Gil meets—men and women—wants to become romantically involved with him.
Thus begins a campy, rapid-fire juggling act that gets quirkier and funnier as the pages turn.
Just as Gil seems to have everything in hand, he realizes that getting involved with a gangster may not have been his shrewdest move. Suddenly, Gil turns from reaching for the stars to running for his life.
Well written prose. Snappy dialogue. Delightful characters. Fiendishly inventive. And ultimately profound. Laury A. Egan has written an utterly enchanting book about reaching a bit too far. It’s the kind of light, entertaining read that lends itself well to summer, to a breezy day at the beach.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
In autumn 1943, the unnamed narrator (a gay writer, so we assume it’s Capote himself) befriends Holly Golightly. The two are tenants in a brownstone apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Holly (age 18–19) is a country girl turned New York café society girl. As such, she has no job and lives by socializing with wealthy men, who take her to clubs and restaurants, and give her money and expensive presents; she hopes to marry one of them. According to Capote, Golightly is not a prostitute but an "American geisha”.
Holly likes to shock people with carefully selected tidbits from her personal life or her outspoken viewpoints on various topics (patterned after Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles in The Berlin Stories). Over the course of a year, she slowly reveals herself to the narrator, who finds himself fascinated by her curious lifestyle.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Colm Tóibín, a gay author and the Leonard Milberg Lecturer in Irish Studies at Princeton University, is one of my favorite storytellers. His prose is superlative and his imagination captivates me. One of his best works, in my opinion, is his collection of short stories called The Empty Family.
These exquisitely written stories, set in present-day Ireland, 1970s Spain and nineteenth-century England, are about people linked by love, loneliness and desire. Tóibín is a master at portraying mute emotions and intense intimacies that remain unacknowledged and unspoken. His characters are often difficult and combative, compelled to disguise their vulnerability and longings until he unmasks them.
Thursday, August 23, 2018
A Single Man is the story of George, a gay, middle-aged expatriate Englishman now teaching at a California university. Consumed with grief of the recent death of the young man he has lived with and loved, George resolutely persists in the routine of his daily life, which includes becoming very close with one of his students. Behind his British reserve, tides of grief, rage, and loneliness surge—but all this emotion reveals a man in love with being alive despite all the everyday injustices.
This is an undeniably overwhelming, unnerving, brilliant book. I found it a moving portrayal of a gay man in maturity and also a meditation on life as an outsider. Isherwood writes about love, loss, acceptance, and grief in a way that is as profound as it is engrossing. It eloquently speaks a message of accepting the uniqueness of each individual and living each day as if it is your last. Each time I read it I discover something new and wonderous.
Friday, August 17, 2018
Forster completed Mauricein 1914, but it was not published until 1971. It tells the story of Maurice Hall, an undergraduate at Cambridge before World War I who discovers that he is homosexual. The manuscript was found in Forester’s rooms at Cambridge after his death in 1970. “Publishable,” a note on the manuscript in his own handwriting said, “but worth it?” Acclaim for the novel on its publication firmly answered Forster’s question, but perhaps it was fortunate that it didn’t come out until general attitudes toward homosexuals became more enlightened.
Forster was one of the greatest writers of our time, a true craftsman of the modern novel. And Mauriceis one of his most powerful works. It’s an extraordinary work to have been written when it was, honest, compassionate, and sympathetic, with rich and beautiful prose that was common in all of Forster’s novels. Mauriceis rich in its subtle intelligence, beautifully controlled in its development, deeply moving. It is a masterpiece of an exceptional artist working at the peak of his creative powers.
It is a book I’ve read several times, and will no doubt continue to read again and again.
Sunday, August 5, 2018
Reviewer: Edward C. Patterson
Publisher: DSP Publications (June 2018)
Powerfully fast-moving with now-relevancy
I know I can rely on a good read whenever I open a book by Alan Chin; and Surviving Immortality is no exception, except it is exceptional. With a believable spark, Mr. Chin presents us with a world devouring itself when promise has given it its greatest loss for hope. All the inchoate faults of humanity, ready today to strike our civilization to the core, leeches out when confronted by a mind shattering development and a simple, lethal condition. Surviving Immortality is masterfully rendered into a work long lingering after the last pages.
The characters are complex, each with their own demon, but honest to their convictions; so much so, there are no heroes, and those who appear villainous can be redeemed by their good intentions. The main thread of the story his told through Matt Reece’s point of view, although all the characters get their turn; but it is Matt’s intense purity, a purity despoiled by circumstances, which unfolds like a night flower in moonlight. Alan Chin crafts an action adventure and psychological political philosophical tale, if there could be such a genre, keeping the pages turning until those pages disappear and time is lost. The elements in the work, and those effecting Matt Reece, are all about us today just waiting for the spark to ignite them. Mr. Chin strikes that spark.
I am a fan of Alan Chin’s other works, but this one combines all the signature touches of them all — ranch life, storms at sea, tropical islands, police procedural, Buddhism, sexuality and a lust for travel. He even includes doffs to his latest wanderlust — Machu Picchu. The world he presents is hisworld as much as ourworld. The arguments are current ones, and I’ll not spoil your read by mentioning them, but whatever opinions you have on those topics, Surviving Immortalitywill not fail to engage you, even if you wind up talking to your night light at midnight in bed.
Needless to say (but I will say it), I highly recommend this book if you enjoy a powerful fast-moving work with now-relevancy from a major author who contributes to our contemporary literary legacy.