Slipping riotously through time like a virus loose in the bloodstream and touching on everything from show tunes and divas (the variety that plays the Met, not top 40 radio) to cruising spots and tanning advice, does James McCourtâs latest book, Lasting City, live up to its cheeky designation: âThe anatomy of nostalgiaâ? Absolutely. (more…)
‘The Greek House : The Story of a Painterâs Love Affair with the Island of Sifnos’ by Christian Brechneff with Tim Lovejoy
From the moment I read the first line of this book, In those days, everyone knew everyone on the island, I was hooked and found it un-put-down-able. Ostensibly a recounting of a young painterâs discovery of a Greek island and his life in a house overlooking the Cycladic Sea, the book is far more. Itâs a mythic tale of finding; of an artistâs development; of sexual and romantic unfolding and, ultimately, of strange, mysterious tides which shape us all, currents formed as much by fate, as by choice. (more…)
In five distinct chapters woven together through a deep sense of nostalgia and a detective-like wistfulness, How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits by Duncan Fallowell offers the reader a glimpse into what it means to be (and to search for) those that have been forgotten, either through time or because of their own reclusiveness.
IntolerableÂ (Harper Collins)Â is remarkable. One of its most striking qualities is that unlike most coming out or coming-of-age tales, Kamal Al-Solaylee doesnât limit his scope to his personal story. Writing in light, quick prose, he situates this vigorous narrative of sexual self-discovery and odyssey within two larger themes. Like cupped palms, they overlap and encapsulate a unique journey. (more…)
Barneys Creative Ambassador-at-Large Simon Doonan has made a name for himself in what he describes as his âjarring and punky and intentionally shockingâ window displays. In his new book The Asylum, a collection of fashion-related autobiographical essays, Doonan also continues to make a name for himself as a writer. A few years back, I particularly enjoyed his memoir Nasty (also published under the title Beautiful People) which offered a glimpse of his escape from Reading to London in the swinging 60s. Like that book, The Asylum lovingly embraces eccentricity with cheekiness and sharp, observant descriptions. I wouldnât jump to call his books warm, but there is a warmth to them and Doonanâs writingâa âwave of solidarity,â an understanding of outsiders and an appreciation for kookiness. (more…)
May 13, 1972
Everyone knows what a novel is, what biographies,
autobiographies and memoirs areâbut what is a
journal? It is an immensity that is always (and has toÂ be) fragmentary.
Glenway Wescott penned his journals in a substantially different tone than the formal control of his few novels, but the entries reveal a mind that was constantly gathering material and considering the potential for literary work. In addition to revealing some of his thought processes, the content of his final journals, A Heaven of Words as edited by Jerry Rosco, cements Wescottâs significant role in gay cultural history. Rather than resolve the often-asked question why he published so little during the last 40 years of his life, Rosco uses Wescottâs journals to gently argue that Wescott continued to write at a high level and that his journal was a valuable project worthy of a thoughtful writerâs ongoing effort.
Glenway Wescott was born in Wisconsin in 1901 and met his life-long partner, Monroe Wheeler, as a young man. Living with Wheeler in Europe, Wescott became known during the 1920s for his well-received novel The Grandmothers. He became friends with expatriates such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald while the homophobe Ernest Hemingway viciously parodied him in The Sun Also Rises. In 1930, after returning to the United States, Wescott published The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story, which critics and readers continue to praise as a gem-like masterpiece. He then took another 15 years to write the popular novel Apartment in Athens. While later writing some small works and producing many essays, Apartment in Athens was his last major published work.
Jerry Rosco knew Wescott and has edited his first set of journals, Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway Wescott, 1937-1955, and has written a detailed biography, Glenway Wescott Personally. Summarizing Wescottâs life from these two previous works and the final journals requires major name-dropping. For example, Wescott and his partner Wheeler lived in a three-way relationship with the photographer George Platt Lynes for a number of years before Lynes separated from them. (Wescott and Wheelerâs multiple relationships are documented throughout A Heaven of Words.)
While Wheeler thrived as a director at the Museum of Modern Art, Wescott expanded his cultural circle at the Academy Institute of Arts and Letters. The journals are full of references to artists and writers such as Paul Cadmus, Jean Cocteau, W. H. Auden, Marianne Moore, Truman Capote, and Katherine Ann Porter. Wescott worked with Christopher Isherwood to publish their mutual friend E.Â M. Forsterâs Maurice posthumously. And he worked for years on Somerset Maughamâs biography at the same time that he maintained a long-term professional and personal relationship with Alfred Kinsey, while assisting in his sex research. A number of recent biographies about Samuel Steward, Lincoln Kirsten, and Leo Lerman offer additional evidence about Wescottâs artistic and literary station.
The journal offers so many references that Rosco has wisely included a 13-page list of more than 200 names and very short biographies, a veritable âWhoâs Who of Modern Cultural Life in the Twentieth Century,â at the end of the book to remind us who some of these people are.
Wescottâs short entries remain eminently quotable, almost as though he is commenting on our current events, such as our fascination with reality TV,Â âWith reference to our literary and artistic situation, IÂ said, ‘The chief enemy of quality is quantity.’ ‘No,’Â Monroe said, ‘the chief enemy of quality is novelty.’”
Another entry seems to predict the âdeep captioningâ that Instagram and People magazine now expressly offer:
[Re: a photo of flamboyantly-dressed heavyweight boxingÂ champion Joe Frazier with the newspaper caption âTheÂ Day After.â]
Captions: the future role of writers (perhaps) in a picture-oriented world.
A minor theme of Wescottâs later journals appear to be his fear of death before he can finish another work of quality,Â ”âŚ I am inclined to think that, in the end, I shall be known not forÂ [the Maugham biography], not for The Grandmothers orÂ Apartment in Athens, but for my so-called journal, marginal pagesÂ or half-pages about this or that, some of them only half written.”
But he also recognized that he might no longer able to satisfy his readership,Â âThe fiction writerâs pleasure as a rule is the feeling thatÂ he is giving pleasure to the reader.â
And ultimately, perhaps Wescott felt that he might enjoy indulging in an active intellectual and sex life (Wescott and Wheeler continued their open relationship into their final years) more than in creating a fictional world, in the journals, he states,Â âI live novels instead of writing them.â
Because of his familiarity with Wescott and his milieu, Rosco has been very judicious in his selection of entries for A Heaven of Words. While shorter than Continual Lessons, the later journals offer evidence of Wescottâs vast interests and ability to think critically. Roscoâs selections reveal important information about Wescott yet allow Wescottâs great ideas and minor foibles to become visible.
Finally, A Heaven of Words reminds us that itâs not important what Wescott did not write in his later years, but that he spent years working on these illuminating journals. After reading The Pilgrim Hawk (and perhaps the short story âA Visit to Priapus,â which will finally become widely available in Roscoâs upcoming collection of Wescottâs short stories), the journals offer a more complete assessment of the writer.
A Heaven of Words: Last Journals, 1956-1984
By Glenway Wescott (edited by Jerry Rosco)
University of Wisconsin Press
Paperback, 9780299294243, 272 pp.
Joel Derfner, in Lawfully Wedded Husband (The University of Wisconsin Press), has crafted a compelling memoir of love and family enriched by social history, politics, and sharp commentary on the state of our popular culture. Derfnerâs story is primarily a chronicle of the journey toward marriage that he has taken with his partner (now husband), Mike, an accomplished (and very patient) psychiatrist. But there are several other stories here: each manâs experience of marriage within their own family histories, the history of marriage equality itself, and then the story of the challenges and pitfalls of Joelâs participation, while planning the wedding, in the reality show Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys. Derfner is an engaging storyteller, and while his sense of humor is ever-present, he never lets it diminish or undermine his discussions of the bookâs more serious subjects. This is a book that is more about reality than reality television.
‘American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke, the Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement’ by Hilary Holladay
Herbert Huncke, heretofore a footnote in biographies of the Beats, has long deserved his own biography, and in American Hipster (Magnus Books), Hilary Holladay, a renowned Kerouac scholar, has given us a fascinating portrait of the man who gave the Beat movement its name. Born in 1915, Huncke was raised in Chicago by ill-matched middle-class parents who separated in the 1920s. His childhood was marked by anxiety, and an understandable compulsion to escape from home where his mother burdened him appallingly with complaints about her sex life with his father. The one adult who appreciated Herbert was his maternal grandmother. Huncke recalled that they âloved each other and were happy together but my father resented the ideaâtelling her she was making a goddamned sissy out of meâto leave me alone.ââ (more…)
A life is made of many parts, but even the wildest stretch of the imagination could not fully account for the improbable grab-bag of roles inhabited by Dolores De Luce. Abused woman. Single mom. Underground performance artist. Housewife and all-round kitchen whiz. Best friend, sometimes lover and mother confessor to an entire generation of beautiful gay men. Witness and scribe of their untimely deaths. (more…)
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was fully prepared to strongly dislike Filip Noterdaemeâs new book, The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart (Outpost19). The premiseâthe establishment-thwarting artist recounts the life story of his cabaret-performer lover and partner that employs âunique syntax punctuation and capitalizationâŚ in meticulous homageâ of Gertrude Steinâs The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklasâsounds simultaneously attention-seeking and self-congratulatory. The more I read, however, the more I succumbed to this impressive workâs many charms, chief among them being a peek behind the curtain at the life of a pair of full-time provocateurs and the understated portrait of a one-of-a-kind and enduring romance. (more…)