Holleran, Andrew. “The Beauty of Men”, Plume Reprint. 1997.
The Beauty of Feelings
I read “The Beauty of Men” when it first came out and I was then reviewing for a paper in New Orleans. I was “wowed” by it and after conducting a phone interview with Andrew Holleran, the author, I found that the book spoke to me even more, Holleran knows how to touch a reader, how to use feeling in a book that makes the reader identify with what is going on in his books. When I read his new book “Grief” I was so stunned by it that I had to sit back and contemplate my life and re-evaluate what I was doing. Both “Grief” and “The Beauty of Men” caused me to accept the fact that even though I am no longer young, there is still a lot of me to give and there is still a lot to be done.
Holleran manages to capture feelings beautifully. The angst that we as older gay men feel has never seemed so real as it is when I read Holleran. The same can be said for the way he deals with hopelessness and sadness. In “The Beauty of Men’, we have the painful story of Lark who is a survivor. He is alive after AIDS has decimated the gay population and more importantly, his group of friends. It is a dark and brooding book on what being an aging gay man is all about. All of us are aware that today’s culture is youth oriented and good looks play an important role in all that we do. The eloquence of Holleran’s prose as he relates the loneliness and the feelings of emptiness of gay middle-aged men who have survived their friends is so beautiful and so real that it is hard to read him without a tear. Even more interesting is the realization of Lark that it is not only AIDS that has changed gay America but also the fact that his generation is due to be replaced by a more vibrant one; a generation of beautiful young men. Yet it is important to note that this is only one view of the future for gays in the world—one that, as beautifully written about as it is, I do not really want to be a part of.
The story is painful and as we read of the emptiness of Lark’s life and read of his self exploration, we feel the limbo that he feels he has reached. Because he is lonely, he looks for relief at a restroom on a local boat ramp and in fantasizing of a relationship with a guy he once had a one night stand with. As easily read as this book is, it is compelling and important and it is not all drab. There are moments of comic genius that often temper Lark’s profound sense of loss.
Personally, as much as I identified with Lark, I did not like him very much. His self imposed existence in a nether world where he feels he can never again feel comfort or solace by the touch of another human is something I do not want to identify with. He leads a life that is less than idealistic. As he looks back on his life, Lark finds that it isn’t what he wanted it to be and when he realizes that each person he has known is just another part of society who draws his own self-esteem from it, he condemns himself to a life of misery based on unhappy memories. He finds it hard to accept the reality of life but he understands that it is society which determines happiness. Lark finds himself becoming invisible because he feels that he is lacking in beauty and youth and he feels the benefits of being straight and old as opposed to being gay and old. He becomes bitter and in that he seals his own future.
What the book does is provide an insight into growing old alone—the road to which most of us are going and the picture he paints is not a pretty one—but it is honest and realistic.
Some feel the book takes itself too seriously—I disagree. Because Holleran wrote it does not mean that you have to accept it. I am not planning on being alone all of my life and I don’t think that any of us will choose that. As depressing as the book is, it is real. Lark was unfortunate but we do not all have to be that way. The worst thing about being gay is getting old and Holleran gives us a picture of that. Most authors would not touch the subject so for that alone he is to be commended. Much of what he has to say about aging is right on the button. In mixing the reality of life with the truth, he gives us what many will feel—as unpleasant as it is. Some of us need to face reality and if we do so early enough perhaps we will not have the same situation that Lark faces. The writing alone is worth the price of the book—it is POWERFUL and it is HONEST.” The Beauty of Man” deals with something we really don’t want to hear—but if we must hear it, let us hear it with beautiful words.