This made-ah me ‘smile’:
The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow:
Between the horrific cover and the title (and, yes, the protagonist’s name really is ‘Hobo Highbrow’) I had to overcome some initial reluctance (well, repeated reluctance, every time I saw the picture or the title) about picking up the book, but I was actually rooting for it. And it seemed to have decent potential: I’ll give any book a chance that manages to repeatedly reference the bizarre combination of Fernando Pessoa and the Norwegian band a-ha. Alas …..
This made-ah me ‘frown’:
Mr. Price hasn’t exactly hidden the fact that he is gay; he is simply a private person who hasn’t tattooed this information, in curly script, on one of his biceps.
I am a big fan of pointlessly fun figurative language in criticism, and Dwight Garner is a regular master of the form, but this fun stroke struck a dissonant chord. Makes it sound like being open about one’s homosexuality in one’s fiction is either a matter of being neutrally, blamelessly circumspect, naturally reserved, or, if not, one must be a florid, ornate, swishy, in-yr-face Hank Azaria-aux-Folles curly-scripted beefcake bicep writer. Right? Isn’t that the implication here? Isn’t he ignoring an important middle ground? That is, there must be a way one can “neutrally” write gay characters without having curly script on one’s bicep. It’s just a metaphor, and the review is otherwise smart and sensitive (and well-written: I love Dwight Garner’s normally spot-on pithy turns. “As Ardent Spirit rolls along, it begins to emit a relaxed, jangly hum” is an example of a sentence I enjoy reading in a book review. Narrative as functioning machinery, and the sound of that machinery functioning nicely. Some book reviews take the engine apart and explain how all the parts work, mechanic-style; I like Garner in his Car & Driver mode, talking about how the thing handles curves, how loud the engine noise is, etc.).
This book review makes me want to reread Banville’s Untouchable, and also read the rest of the Edmund White books I haven’t read. What would Garner say about Edmund White’s literary biceps, I wonder? Any ink on those guns? If so, how florid is the script?