White, Edmund. “Chaos: A Novella and Stories”, Carroll and Graf, 2007.
When Life Implodes
Edmund White is one of the deans of gay literature as well as a highly respected author in his own right. He is the author of over 20 books and has won numerous awards. Three of his novels are autobiographical and in his new book “Chaos” A Novella and Stories”, he takes a look at what happens when gay men age.
Before he wrote “Chaos”, White published “My Lives: An Autobiography” and it and the new book cover roughly the same material.
In the novella “Chaos”, we meet Jack, a 66 year old university faulty member whose claim to fame is the blurbs that he writes for other’s books. He worries a great deal about sex and money. And like other older gay men, he lusts after those who are younger than himself. He is not above paying for sexual favors and spends a lot of time cruising “Craig’s List”. When he meets Seth, a young blonde Mormon, he is quick to take out his wallet and pay him every time they have sex. In fact even when they become friends, Jack continues to pay. But Seth is only the first of many. What Jack wants in his life is culture as well as good food and men, men, men. But we also learn that Jack is not just a sexual animal, he is also a good friend—we learn this when we read of how he reacts when he learns that a good female friend is diagnosed with cancer.
One of the stories “Give It Up for Billy”, looks at aging from a different aspect as does “A Good Sport”. Aging has always been an important idea in gay culture and White looks at it deeply and personally. White, as usual, is iconoclastic ad he writes about maturity in much the same way he wrote about youth. White looks at growing older not as a bane but rather as a fact of life—it happens to all of us and it is something we must accept. There is a certain guilt felt as one grows more mature and this is evident in White.
I found it hard to sympathize with White’s characters. I am a middle aged gay man and I am not lonely nor do I wallow in self pity or escape through opium or by paying prostitutes. However, the beauty of White’s language males the plots of his stories seem unimportant.
All in all, this is a satisfying read and unfortunately it is very true. I have read some really bad reviews and I think this is because facing maturity is never a pretty thought. Yet the world is not always pretty and Edmund White succeeds in telling a story that is not pretty in the most beautiful of ways.