Book Review, Creative Non-Fiction, Edmund White, Fictional Memoir, Gay Lit

Review: A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White

A refreshingly realistic tale of a gay boy’s “coming of age.” White makes a point of expressing his distaste for fanciful boy’s tales in which all boarding schools are brothels of young sex and violence, then proceeds to tell a painfully true story (autobiographic) about a youth growing up confused – his mother’s companion, his father’s shame, his sister’s punching bag, physically and emotionally. The boy struggles with self-image, with friendships and sexual experiences, with religion and philosophy, with truth and farce. While the story itself did sometimes get dwarfed by the over-arching themes which it meant to present, the novel still ends powerfully in that its stays true to its purpose. The narrator accomplishes what he meant to, but is left without any deus-ex-machina type epiphany. While I find the comparisons to Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye a bit stretched, I can see a mixture of Knowles’s A Separate Peace (A Boy’s Own Story being more explicit of events, whereas Knowles left much to implication) and Forster’s Maurice. Interestingly enough, early American gay literature tended to be more subdued than its British counterparts; however, white seems to invoke a bit of the beat generation’s bravado in A Boy’s Own Story. Still, the language is often loftier than story would seem to necessitate and the narrator’s pretense of genius (the narrator himself and all characters around him, including his mother, seemed to consider him something extraordinary, though no characteristics were developed to explain this) gets a bit nauseating. All in all, I quite liked the blunt realism, in spite of many instances of pretentious prose.

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