I have wanted to read a novel by Edmund White (1940,USA) for sometime now. Many consider him the best writer who consciously identifies themselves as a Gay author focusing on Gay life style issues and Gay artists. He has written in addition to numerous novels and short stories biographies of Genet and Proust as well as numerous cultural essays. He was greatly praised by Susan Sontag and Vladimir Nabokov, among many others.
I like to read novels and short stories that center on famous authors and Hotel de Dream centers on the last year of the life of the great American writer, Stephen Crane. (1871 to 1900, born New Jersey,
Works include Red Badge of Courage and Maggie Girl of the Streets.) The concept of the novel is very creative and superbly interesting. Stephen Crane, dying of TB,recalls when he was is in New York City living with his mistress and many thought wife, Cora. Crane was very much into prostitutes and enjoyed their company as much as their services. All biographical data points to him being exclusively heterosexual. In walking the streets on day he meets a young man of 15, obviously a prostitute. He looks terribly sick and has a horrible history of sexual abuse to tell. He ran away to the streets of New York to escape the repeated rapes by his father and brothers. Crane becomes fascinated with him and tells Cora, former prostitute and Madame of a Florida brothel. There is a literary legend that at the time of his death Crane was working on a story about a young male street prostitute and in an incredibly bold device White includes a version of this story (one he created, of course). In the story the young man he met, Eliot works the streets as a newsboy and also sells sex to men. A business man falls in love with him. I will leave rest of this imagined novel untold but it is really devastating. We do learn a lot about Gay life on the streets and bars in late 19 th century. Some of the slang is interesting and some who have read the novel said the slang terms are in part satirical inside jokes and I felt that at times.
The novel has really three segments, the false lost novel, the story from Stephen's point of view and from Cora's perspective.
The novel takes place not in New York State but in the English countryside, where Cora took Crane in the hope he might recover. Cora kind of reminded me, having recently read a new biography of James Joyce, of Nora Barnacle in that she deeply love him, saw his weaknesses and in way deeply understood him but knew little if his work other than as something from which money could sometimes be made.
Hotel de Dream is a terrible clever and creative novel that illuminates gay street life in New York City around 1898. I will read, I hope, more of his work.
I was inspired to reread Red Badge of Courage and hope to post on it soon.