Holleran, Andrew. “Nights in Aruba”, Harper Reprint, 2001.
“Nights in Aruba” is Holleran’s second book, written in 1983. Paul the narrator of “Aruba” is a Proust like character as he relives his life in his own mind. As such, this is a book to be read slowly, thought about, and enjoyed. Being a non-linear plot, it has to be followed carefully but as you follow it you will become that much of a better person. As Paul remembers, we can see him as the composite post-Stonewall gay male. He enjoys and he suffers (like all of us) and he says what he thinks (unlike most of us).
One does read “Aruba” because the plot is so good; we read it because the author’s voice is so pervasive. Its truthfulness hurts at times because as you read you discover what t is to be human and how to feel uncertainty. It is one viewpoint (like in “The Beauty of Men”) as it shows how we, as humans, make the same mistakes over and over. I found so much more in this reading than I have in previous readings of the same book—but then I am older now and perhaps I am more ready to accept or disregard. As Paul looks back on his early years of living in Aruba, he discovers that what he had was empty. All the sex and all of the liaisons have mounted up to a feeling of nothingness and as he faces his inner world, Paul realizes that he did the same thing again and again.
Paul sees everything and yet he cannot help himself from erring. His life has been devoid of motivation and yet he wonders why he has nothing to show for the life he led. Granted the book is short on plot but it is Holleran’s language and use of English as well as his ability to communicate feelings that saves this book from being a story of self pity.
It is certainly not his best book but we can see where he is heading with it. It is surely a precursor of ideas that he will develop later in his novels “The Beauty of Men” and “Grief”. And I can see the frustration one feels as he grows older and feels he has nothing to show for his life. Some of you may feel that Holleran is a depressing writer and I must say that this is not necessarily so. The fact that many of us find ourselves in situations like Holleran writes about does not mean that Holleran’s writing is meant to depress—rather it is to get us to face the reality of our lives. Perhaps by reading the results of how others feel, we can prevent ourselves to fall into the same quagmires.