EDMUND WHITE'S INFLUENCE ON contemporary fiction is formidable. His nonfiction works, including The Joy of Gay Sex and his autobiography My Lives, pierce truths many writers are afraid to touch. More recently, City Boy chronicles his early years in New York in both nostalgic and grim detail; its final pages strikingly reinvigorate and affirm that the life of a writer is one worth living. Last year, his book of essays Sacred Monsters was published by Magnus Books, followed by the novel Jack Holmes and His Friend, published last month by Bloomsbury.
In a departure from such autobiographical fiction as A Boy’s Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, Skinned Alive, or Chaos, Jack Holmes and His Friend explores the relationship between Jack and Will Wright, a straight man with whom Jack falls in love. Their friendship covers the same trajectory most of White’s writing does, beginning in the 1960s and concluding sometime after the onset of the AIDS epidemic. It’s further proof that White continues in stride to offer the strengths his writing always has: effortless humor, deceptively casual observations, and razor-sharp interiority for characters drawn compassionately, with and without their pants on.
We spoke in his hotel room in Los Angeles, where he had come to be part of Mona Simpson’s “Some Favorite Writers” series at the Hammer Museum. All quotes are from Jack Holmes and His Friend.
Jack thought he was the one who was pathetic, mooning over a secretive straight man who wasn’t even all that attractive. Sometimes Jack thought that he and Will should live together, that he, Jack, should make Will dinner and suck his cock every night, that he should listen to Will’s novel once a week and praise him every time, that he should keep a low profile at work and push Will ahead — and that he should recognize that at most he’d get two good years out of Will before the young author met the right girl: witty, nearly virginal, rich, fragile, feisty on the surface but essentially yielding.
EDMUND WHITE: What was fun for me was to use the trajectory of my own life, but to assign it to someone who was quite unlike myself. I write so much autobiographically, and I enjoy doing that, but this was a way of extending that. In one of Nabokov’s novels, Look at the Harlequins, he assigns a lot of his life trajectory to another, totally made-up, very vulgar version of himself — somebody who really does like little girls, who really is a white Russian and who mourns his lost fortune — all these things that the real Nabokov would have been too elegant to do. So I thought that was a very good model. Jack is not...read more