The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, December 04, 2004  

Books, Recommended or Otherwise

I should try harder, I think. I want to find gay fiction that I can enjoy, but it’s incredibly difficult to find, that despite the community’s reputation for exceptional creativity. And so I try, not very often I admit, maybe every three or four years, to find novelists I can appreciate, watch grow, and grow with, an effort that is always disappointing.

No, I think. They, authors of gay fiction and their editors, should try harder.

That thought returned to me this week after having picked up four recent or fairly recent novels at the Free Library of Philadelphia, not one of which I would recommend to readers.

I ask, again, how many coming-out novels are we supposed to read? The coming-out genre was tired 20 years ago. Why editors continue to solicit and publish such tiresome, and ultimately stereotypically narcissistic expositions is beyond me. Don’t gay men have lives after coming out? Of course they do, as the authors cited below attempt with varying degrees of success to demonstrate. But the lives constructed in these novels are little more than clichés, with flat characters, banal plotlines, tedious cultural observations, and predictable denouements. Sadly, the four novels listed below, on which I wasted far too much time, are entirely characteristic of the offerings of the past several years.

It's sort of like reading Andrew Sullivan. Actually, it's very much like that. One does it, thinking there might be some there there, only to find the opposite is the case and to wonder, in frustration, why the mainstream media is all too happy to stick with its "reliable" sources, no matter how out of touch with reality they really are.

The Beauty of Men

Andrew Holleran

New York: William Morrow & Co. Inc., June 1, 1996
Rittenhouse Rating: Not Recommended

The Spell

Alan Holinghurst

New York: Viking Penguin/Penguin Putnam Inc., April 1, 1999
Rittenhouse Rating: Not Recommended

Where the Boys Are

William J. Mann

New York: Kensington Books, May 1, 2003
Rittenhouse Rating: Not Recommended

The Year of Ice

Brian Malloy

New York: St. Martin’s Press, July 1, 2002
Rittenhouse Rating: Not Recommended

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(Rittenhouse Reading-Room Ratings: Must Reading, Very Highly Recommended, Highly Recommended, Recommended, Not Recommended.)

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