When Andrew Holleran was at A Different Light, he said that The Beauty of Men grew out of a diary he kept, but intimated that it is not biographical, that he is not Lark. (Paul Varnell told me that a friend of his knows the original for Malone, now an alcoholic to whom Holleran sometimes send some money). Holleran sounded healthier, less self-loathing and closeted than Lark. His reading brought out humor (or at least absurdity). Yet many of the attitudes are those of Holleran’s essays in Christopher Street. I called Dancer a fictionalization of clone self-hatred. Beauty is another one with the added guilt of remembering ignoring older men the way Lark now finds younger men contemptuously turning away from him. He is fully aware of the live by the sword, die by the sword justice of this. He wallows in self-pity, but he doesn’t whine to the upstarts who have no idea that they too are mortal.
If Dancer scared David Leavitt, what will Beauty do to those who pick it up to learn what lies ahead for them or to find out what gay life is like. Every homophobic cliché is there: sterility, deprivation of paternal bonding, absorption with the mother, sexual compulsiveness, inability to grow up and settle down, being doomed to loneliness after 40, having no interest in a career, there’s even a suicide (of someone HIV-). There’s even direct contuinity with the original Sodomites demanding to see the fresh meat (p. 214)!
Lark has no visible means of support. Presumably, he inherited and/or controls money accumulated by his father, though it still seems natural to Holleran for gay men to cruise full time and not have jobs (“I’ve devoted my whole life to being homosexual,” p. 23). I think a job would almost certainly be good for Lark’s mental health: distract him from himself and his loathing of himself. Dale Peck said something about becoming aborbed in the little dramas and comedies of one’s co-workers (when he, until recently, had a day job).
Holleran said he meant to read Law of Enclosures, but was reading Lord Jim. Publishers send him galleys hoping for blurbs, but otherwise he reads little that’s new, he reported.
He also said that in the mid-70s, he thought the gay world was a small, closed one in which everyone knew everyone else (in New York) and that he does not know how to write about a more diffused (and permeable) world. That must explain something, since I jotted it down at the time.
Numb from the destruction of his world through the early and horrible deaths of most of its inhabitants, I can understand, but that is not the source of the contempt for himself and for gay people that is so pervasive in his writings.
Lark knows that he is self-loathing (and another in-group father figure, this time named Sutcliffe rather than Sutherland) tries to talk sense to him, specifically that AIDS is not God’s punishment. Lark knows that his obsession with Becker is doomed and foolish. He knows that he is carrying an absurd, very unhealthy load of guilt. That does not lighten the load. Even an acute analysis is not a cure (alas!). He even knows that he was alienated from homosexuality before AIDS (p. 112).
There are a few healthier characters, and Holleran’s descriptions are sometimes beautiful (frequently at the border where lavender turns purple). The book irritates me more than it depresses me. I want to keep living; Lark has stopped. And Holleran? It’s hard for me not to see the protagonists of his three novels as pretty much the same character at three different ages. I know they are novels, but has he any powers of invention? or only description and (queenly) exaggeration?
I don’t think gay writers are obligated to provide positive roles models, but it might be better not to write than to repeat and illustrate all the denigrations!
(Oh yes: there are no significant non-whites in the book, even though it is set in the South. I seem to recall an attractive Asian glimpsed, and a Jamaican providing company in a bathhouse tv room, but no speaking parts for non-whites, and no southern blacks at all.)
(And in pseudo-Lucian’s joust on what is the best love object (c. 300 A.D.), the woman lover asks, “Is there a law that all ugliness should be thought guilty of viciousness but that the handsome should automatically be praised as good?” (23) so the hostile judgment of homophile ageism is of long standing. Holleran likes them older than the Greeks, around 30, and does not claim that their souls are beautiful, so Charicles might deem him more honest than the boylovers of yore. He questioned those continuing to dally with the developed bodies of twenty-year-olds (26), though I don’t think Foucault’s interpretation of what hidden part became of interest is right).
©27 June 1996