Arkansas: 3 Novellas by David Leavitt

It’s not just presumptuousness that leads to the belief that when you’ve read, seen or heard one gay love story, you would have experienced them all already. Read about Reinaldo Arenas’s life and you’re done. You have your coming out of the closet stories, your AIDS stories, and your conflicted, complicated gay guy stories. And no one could ever have enough of them, just ask the exhibitors at Robinsons Galleria’s Indie Cine. Not that that’s bothersome, because wouldn’t you choose to reread, rewatch and rehear things with gay subject matter when their straight counterparts are just as repetitive and predictable? I would, but maybe not all the time. Plus there’s the familiarity of the situations being told which you can find more relatable, although once in a while, really good stories come, where the genders of the lovers are almost totally irrelevant, like Enis and Jack or Wall-E and Eve.

In Arkansas, David Leavitt creates three brisk novellas that cover the entire gay story templates. The first, The Term Paper Artist, tells of an author named David Leavitt, supposedly a fictional characater who does something so exciting to the willing, failing boys of the neighborhood university. It makes you realize that Bret Easton Ellis isn’t the only bisexual/gender-unspecific person who can do modernish things on their works of fiction like that (ie, make fiction, deny its being autobiographical, but still use own name, like Bret Easton Ellis writing himself in but not as himself in Lunar Park). A once successful novelist gets into trouble for inserting allegedly stolen ideas into his novel, so he ends up slumming in his parents’s home where he meets the first sexy boy which he, David Leavitt, the meta-author, will begin with what will turn out to be a lucrative venture of selling English term papers in exchange for blow jobs. And then suddenly, a conscientious, also doing badly in English, troubled boy approaches him for a Jack the Ripper essay. Things get shaken up when the engaged to his girlfriend Mormon conservative throws himself to David, smooches him hard and appears to really like the arrangement and, for added measure, turns out to be well-hung. Needless to say, everybody gets to be happy in the end.

The Wooden Anniversary deals with the heartache of the stock female character in most gay anthologies. It’s not that I’ve read that many, I just feel like the females are almost always hags or devastated, clueless women who gets in the midst of these fictional gay people’s lives who always end up falling for the wrong (read: gay) guy. Although stuff like that, females like these really do exist. In this, think Grace Adler in Will & Grace minus the humor. The humor in fact in this tale is only in the gay guy’s description of the Italian/European guy’s used underwear as smelling like eternity, which turns out to be Calvin Klein Eternity and not the masculine musky sort which would have approximated what is for the after-workout-odor fetishist as eternity. Throw in an ambiguously-gendered hot native in the mix and you have a fun mix of hags, gay playas, clueless husbands suddenly arriving in a pretty Italian rest house and you have yourself a treat.

The last and best, Saturn Street, is the AIDS story. Directionless gay bachelor Jerry goes to LA to look for direction and meets the gay of his life. It is of course not as simplistic as meeting in a Starbucks, let’s hump next kind of meet. The of course writer Jerry plans to map out a life in LA as a screenwriter and decides to bring lunches to really sick AIDS-afflicted patients and stumbles into the life of an adorable and dying man. The adorable man is in a constant state of confusion, illness and emotional ambiguity which is unsurprising since he has AIDS, and normally, when you read AIDS tales, you will already know where it’s headed (nowhere, most of the time), but Leavitt does something else. He builds up a plausible seeming relationship between aimless bachelor and dying adorable that when the story hits its climax, where AB finds out something about DA that is hard to see coming, the emotional tug is not gratuitous but rather well-earned.

All in all, the novellas were good reimaginings of the gay life. Actually, it’s a good reimagining of a life. With the exception of #3, I find almost all three’s endings slightly unsatisfying. But that’s where the author might have hit the bulls-eye: that the gay life isn’t always satisfying, and as the AIDS story serves to remind, being gay doesn’t equate to gay as in happy-gay life and that it can in fact be very tragic. If it was the intended effect then bravo. If not, I’m sure our brethren will come up with something else and we will happily, gaily consume.

4 thoughts on “Arkansas: 3 Novellas by David Leavitt

  1. gay is not equal to happy. hmmm.

    i have yet to read this book but i followed leavitt’s work. i particularly like the lost language of cranes. you should read it, if you still haven’t.


  2. yes, but it’s supposed to be synonymous to happy. hehe.

    i think he’s referring to that novel, lost language of cranes, the one he got into trouble for.


  3. He got into trouble for “While England Sleeps”, in which the central character was loosely based on Stephen Spender.


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