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.

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Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho

If you’re a first time Bret Easton Ellis reader, this book will make you never want to read him again, probably, and that will be a shame. A little over 20 pages and the author knocks himself out with Bateman’s morning hygiene rituals. In painstaking detail, Ellis repeatedly stabs you with his hero’s self-aggrandizing habits of beautification. The self is of course essential to the book’s narrative which explains the oh so many I am sipping cocktail now and I pay for it using my Platinum Amex, etc. Everything happens within Bateman’s mind that it’s become impossible to recognize any other characters in the novel without going several pages back, puzzling over who that guy was who just spoke/snorted coke who was dating that girl wearing the Oscar dela Renta. The trivialities of the characters’ activities sometimes bog down the action of this otherwise consistently horrific thriller but some of the time, I don’t mind. The extensive cataloguing of all things posh and Amex-bought find their way in almost every other chapter, only briefly intercepted by Patrick Bateman’s wild imagination (?). Much as I adore the nasty people that populate much of Ellis’ books, they are true patience testers.

Should you read/reread American Psycho? Is it worth your time to go through it not just once but many times? Is there any justice to the self to read more than once this novel that one could swear in certain parts read unapologetically like a department store catalogue?

Patrick Bateman, who is most certainly at least 60% gay, goes on and on, sometimes at cloying lengths about grooming, neckties, calling cards, credit cards, Huey Lewis, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston albums, not to mention a variety of vaginal tortures, that one can be forgiven for thinking the author an actual sick human being.

No one comes running after Patrick after he’s committed his crimes, at least not in the serious, climactic, Dan Brown kind of way. What I initially got from it was that it is a great massacre story that’s so weird, it has to have a Whitney Houston album and discography review. It’s so brutal, so graphic and I imagine, so provocative to women and anyone who has ever thought highly of their genitals.

But to think of American Psycho as torture lit masquerading as torture porn is to be dismissive of its greatness. There’s not to many novels like it. What gives Patrick Bateman substance, or what deprives him of one depending on how you look at it, is that maybe none of what he described as murders actually happened. That Bateman is really just a guy in suit with fantasies of murder far colorful than most. But I’m not sure and I don’t care to know. But the idea that everything’s imagined is right there at the beginning when Ellis gives it away, quoting a Miss Manners,

One of the places we went wrong was the naturalistic Rousseauean movement in the sixties in which people said, “Why can’t you just say what’s on your mind?” In civilization there have to be some restraints. If we followed every impulse, we’d be killing one another.

Maybe I just like Bret Easton Ellis, there’s something about three-named authors, and though I might not finish this round, I’ll take what he comes up with next whoever may be in it.

Bret Easton Ellis Philippines

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I tried to join Anne Rice Philippines in hopes of having friends. Joke lang. I joined it because it was recommended by a credible geek and because I looked at their site and there are some nice looking people in there. Also, I like Anne Rice. Maybe not as much as I did back in college, when I really tried to ignore the ‘homoerotic undertones’ in the books. That was truly the height of denial. I am relatively less dense and more accepting now, which is to say that I now fully realize how homosexually oriented The Vampire Chronicles are and so it’s fitting that I join it, the ARP. It’s a little depressing to me how I’m less interested in them now because I’m not sure if I’ll be very, very interested in anything again now that I’m so old and imbalanced.

This fall out with Anne began when I started reading other stuff. It turns out that there’s more to life than vampire fiction/architectural monologue/furniture catalogue novelizations. And of course there is. There’s Catcher in the Rye. There is also American Psycho. I’m almost done with the Bret Easton Ellis catalogue of coke lit. I can’t wait for him to write the next best vampire literature since Anne Rice’s Memnoch the Devil. If this were to happen, the Bret Easton Ellis vampires would redefine vampire lit. His vampires would be cokeheads whose idea of a good time is to eat each other out (genitals), sniff coke all night long and namedrop the hardbodies they’ve sucked. They will hunt not in alleys but in nightclubs where they can ‘do lines’ in bathrooms. They might not suck blood even. They will not suck, period. Only sniff. But I truly believe that this is never going to ever happen ever because Bret Easton Ellis is not as talented at ruining vampire lore as, say, Stephanie Meyer.

I was just thinking of how clever it would be to associate passionlessness with Bret Easton Ellis’ 80s novel, The Rules of Attraction where the characters are so… passionless. So here goes: I am passionless. I may have flunked the entrance exams for Anne Rice Philippines. I didn’t even know what sire refers to in vampire-speak. So to associate, I was thinking of founding instead Bret Easton Ellis Philippines where members’ loyalties are to be tested by how passionless they are willing to become. Like in Rules of Attraction, all you have to really be is someone who blabbers. You can go on and on about a silly fixation and it would be fine. Anyone who introduces himself as bisexual is to be hacked into tiny bits, dick first, Bateman-style. Hot lesbians are to be granted first class status because I already know two of these breed and because favoritism in Bret Easton Ellis Philippines (BEEP) will be widely tolerated. Wearing of school colors will not.

Since there’s almost no single unifying characteristic to all of Bret Ellis’ characters, and since coke sniffing is expensive and too American, anyone can just be their absolutely boring selves. Only requirement would be the ability to quote a passage from any of his books, excluding The Informers, because I don’t care for short story collections.

I know. It’s not clever enough. But if I could just muster enough passion I’m sure it could work.

Haunted by Patrick

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Bret Easton Ellis warns readers of Lunar Park that the events in the book really, truly happened to him. And since American Psycho was amazing, I was all set to believe everything I was about to read, bullshit or no bullshit.

Patrick Bateman, the character that started it all happens to have a huge fan. It’s a fandom so huge, it’s scary. Generally abhorred and excoriated by critics, publishers, women and gay groups, American Psycho (a book I truly like) has become the finest example of how not to develop attachment with a Bret Easton Ellis character. As a group, his characters are bad, soulless people and Patrick Bateman is their poster boy. What’s mildly surprising is how bent Ellis seems on making us believe that Bateman is the work of something else, and in his attempt to prove this he aspired to become a boring, suburban house dad, with minor dalliances with college hotties and coke-sniffing on the side. He was hoping that he, unlike his character, has too much of a soul and humanity in him that creating the monster that is Bateman was not entirely his idea. He should not have bothered because as murderous as he is, Patrick Bateman, as are most Patricks are, is a wonderful character.

He recounts his brief but scary encounter with the ghosts of his past and with the almost concrete and literal ghosts of the present: the ugly relationship with the dad with whom he mostly based his most famous creation, Patrick Bateman, the bomb of a marriage with actress Jayne Dennis, and the struggle with the embittered son Robby. It’s always amusing to wonder what these people that he ruthlessly used as characters in his fiction, might think of the whole charade.

As with most established authors, Ellis’ most recent work is sure to attract certain ghosts of its own, one of which would certainly be its incapacity to equal its predecessor’s greatness, most of which will be taken up by that great American novel, American Psycho. But Ellis, like most of his fiction, has a way of hinting that he’s not all about that shit. Just when you thought it was about something, it turns out that it isn’t (i.e. Psycho isn’t just about a psycho, Glamorama isn’t about fashion, etc).