Holleran, Andrew. “Dancer from the Dance”, Harper, 1978.
Beautiful and Magical
(written in 2007)
I usually go back and reread Andrew Holleran every couple of years but this year I could not wait to reread him since he will be the official guest of the Arkansas Literary Festival and my book club, Literary Pride in Little Rock. Turning a spotlight on gay literature in Arkansas is a first and the man of letters that will do so is Andrew Holleran.
I remember reading Holleran’s first book “Dancer from the Dance” when it was first published in 1978 and it moved me than as it has moved me every year of my life afterwards. It describes a world of magic and beauty in New York of the ‘70’s; a world that I once yearned to be a part of. The book opens with death and tells of the life of beauty and drugs and sex—a scene which was to call for its own destruction. The death of the opening book seems to be a premonition of the AIDS epidemic which had not begun when the book was written. It was written some three years before the first cases were reported.
Rereading the book in successive years, I suddenly realize how unattractive this lifestyle really was. Everyone in the novel were legally of age before we were given the okay to be who we are by the American
Psychiatric Association and many years before homosexuality was no longer considered a crime in America. Looking back at it now, I see that the beauty (or what I thought was beautiful) now seems so shallow and so cellophane—it was a world that had the seeds of its own sad ending.
“Dancer from the Death” is a classic in describing the self-hate and bitterness which seemed to engulf the gay world in that period. It is almost hard to believe that we actually lived that way, Aside from that sad aspect of gay culture and life, Holleran captures fully the lives of gay men in a prose that is dark and racy. Some of the things he says are hurtful—but honest as we look at ourselves for whom we really are. But it is also comforting to know that during that decade of unabandoned joy and sex, we were not alone—many of us behaved very much the same.
This is a book to be read slowly and savored and pondered over—you do not want to miss a word. Suddenly you realize that you feel like you know the characters in the book (you surely know people just like them).
Holleran’s style is what makes the book. I am stunned by the knowledge that it is as fresh and meaningful to me today as it was in 1978. Holleran dazzles with his use of the English language and the true beauty of the book is that regardless of what else changes in the world, the book “Dancer from the Dance” will always be there—unchanged and beautifully written to remind us of whom we are and where we came from and to where we have gone.
Malone, our main character, is a young man who has been raised in conservative America and decides to just give up everything and be a gay man living a gay life. He arrives in New York where he meets another guy named Sutherland, an older gay man who teaches Malone how to be gay. We see through the interaction of the two as well as the subsequent happenings what gay life became in New York City after the Stonewall Riots of 1868. We meet characters from all walks of gay life and we see how the path of one gay man in the 1970s—that of coming out, getting laid, joining he circuit, meeting other men, becoming a male prostitute and ultimately becoming bitter and old—so reflects the times it is written about.
Holleran exposes the gay world which was presented as glamorous and exciting as being no more than a step into oblivion.
There is no question that “Dancer from the Dance” is one of the best gay novels ever written and Andrew Holleran is a beautiful writer. When I first read this book I had never read anything quite like it before and that is still quite true. The novel is lush and rich and beautiful and happy and sad. As Holleran takes us through the wreckage and beauty of New York, way back then, we meet characters we will not forget and Holleran’s ability to bring about lasting images of a world that was—a wlrd that provokes, that causes us to laugh and brings us to tears. To know this book is to add it to your all time favorite list. It is truly a work that has affected us profoundly and will continue to do so as long as man can read.