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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Beautiful Room is Empty (1988) by Edmund White

Book Review
The Beautiful Room is Empty (1988)
 by Edmund White

   The coming-of-age stories of the LGBT spectrum are one of the limited areas where a "coming of age" novel can hope to bring something new to the table by the end of the 20th century.  Coming-of-age tales are contained by the formalism of the genre: first person narration by a character who closely resembles the author.   Edmund White represents the bleeding edge of the LGBT wave:  A white male, not particularly effeminate nor trans, from a privileged economic upbringing, with a very good education and a prestigious job in New York City as an editor.  The Beautiful Room is Empty is the second of his cis gay coming of age trilogy- this chapter covers the events from college until the Stonewall riots, which the author/narrator character takes part in.

   In 2017 there is nothing particularly revelatory in the terrain covered by White in The Beautiful Room is Empty- in the first novel- the best parts concern his becoming aware of his sexuality in the relative isolation of Cincinnati.  By the time he gets to New York City and pre-Stonewall Greenwich village, he is documenting a scene that is well known to all with even a casual interest in social equality

  White writes frankly about gay male sex, oral and anal, describing intimately such milleus as the Port Authority bathroom-which sounds like a virtual bachinallia of sucking and fucking (I'm just being descriptive) and the gendered practices of gay love making in pre-AIDS New York City.  Perhaps the most lasting importance of The Beautiful Room is Empty is to give a portrait-in-time of pre-AIDS New York City- a virtual Weimar Republic before the onset of AIDS terror.

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