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Book Review: 'Jack Holmes And His Friend'

Jan 19, 2012
Originally published on January 19, 2012 10:16 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Noted novelist, essayist and biographer, Edmund White, has written a new work of fiction. It's called "Jack Holmes and His Friend." It's a love story between two men and it spans a period of American history that saw a huge change in society's attitudes toward homosexuality.

Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: When young Midwesterner Jack Holmes arrives in New York City in the early '60s, he finds a job at a Manhattan culture magazine and he finds that he's muscularly homosexual. His deep and unrequited desire for fellow magazine writer Will Wright, a shy, upper class guy fresh up out of Virginia, becomes the mulch for a deep and requited friendship that spans a decade and more.

That decade being the '60s, there's a whole lot of desiring going on, Jack for scores and scores of men, Will for the rich girl introduced to him by Jack, the girl he marries, and then for a shallow but attractive woman who becomes his mistress, also introduced to him by Jack.

For nearly half the book, we witness this story from Jack's point of view and from Will's point of view for much of the other half. Taken together, their stories form a deep and powerful picture of love, desire, affection, rejection and despair in a great American city about to become writhen with AIDS.

In passage after passage, which I won't quote here, novelist White proves himself to be the finest practitioner of making explicit and deliciously accurate sentences about sexual coupling, straight and gay. Thus, I give this book a double-X rating. In chapter after chapter, White proves himself to be one of the finest practitioners of angst-ridden scene making about people in love with desire and desirous for real love.

SIEGEL: "Jack Holmes and His Friend" from Edmund White. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.