EDMUND WHITE: UP THERE WITH UPDIKE

Edmund White city boyEdmund White’s trilogy of memoirs is the gay counterpart to John Updike’s Rabbit novels. White was a late bloomer: the book that made his name, “A Boy’s Own Story”, arrived when he was 42. “City Boy”, his third memoir (also considered here), divulges his formative movements–a Midwesterner escaped to New York–in those two decades spent hunting for a voice. Arriving at the birth of the 1960s, he oddjobbed and hobnobbed while early plays failed and a first novel spent years in dry-dock, only to sink without trace. A second wasn’t even published.

White had more success in his nightly prowls of the burgeoning gay underground, emerging as co-author of “The Joy of Gay Sex”. The minutiae of cruising–all that who, what, how and, most of all, how often–now have a tint of sepia, but the Stonewall riots starring cop-baiting tranny warriors come up a treat. White decamps to Rome, then San Francisco, and tells of bitchy holidays in Paris and Venice, but the locus classicus of his tale remains lowdown, bankrupt New York. Its pained undercurrent is thwarted ambition, leavened by gossipy recollections of poets, queens and fossilised heiresses. A Proustian elegy for vanished times before the fall.

"City Boy" (Bloomsbury), by Edmund White, now out in Britain

~ JASPER REES