A.S. Byatt, Book Review, Dennis Cooper, E.M. Forster, Fantasy, Fiction, Franz Kafka, Gay Lit, George Miles Cycle, J.D. Salinger, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.T. Leroy, Jane Yolen, Virginia Axline

Review: Briefer Reviews of Past Reads

Closer by Dennis Cooper

I always promise myself that Dennis Cooper will not be able to shock me again; yet, he somehow manages to do so. For most readers, the majority of this book -start to finish- will be quite shocking, especially to those unfamiliar with Cooper’s work. I was appropriately mortified along the way, but it wasn’t until near the end, in the last chapter, when I was genuinely surprised and disgusted. The story is about a boy, George, who bounces from lover to lover, being used to fulfill others’ needs. Even the “love” that he finds in the end is getting his rocks off on the side, and this, beyond any scatological or blood play, is what disgusted me most.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Very interesting. My first journey into the world of Kafka. He takes the metaphor and turns it into reality. Gregor, described as “verminlike” actually becomes a vermin, something similar to a cockroach. I’m not sure, however, what the point is supposed to be, and like many critics, I am left with more questions than answers. Why does Kafka hate Gregor so much in the first place? Granted, he is just a traveling salesmen – but he is working for a slimy manager in order to pay back his parents’ debts, and he plans on sending his sister to a music school. I found little so “cockroach-esque” or unappealing about Gregor – but he is forced into this vermin body and his family turns away from him. I’m not sure. I suppose I’ll have to read more about Kafka’s intentions and theorists’ interpretations before I settle on one feeling about this novel, if that’s even possible at all. It was good, though. Philosophically interesting – I just wonder why Kafka inserted such an average, generally decent and well-meaning guy to play the role of the vermin. Seems the manager would be more suited for that role.

Maurice by E.M. Forster

This is the first Forster novel I’ve read, but it certainly will not be the last.  Maurice is a painfully real tale about a man torn and despairing over his sexuality. Perhaps only a gay man can relate completely to this novel. Perhaps only a gay man who has attempted to deny his sexuality and “reform,” to become “normal,” can fully understand what Forster has attempted (with great success) in this novel. And, perhaps, only a gay man who has struggled painfully with his own desires, battled for acceptance, and finally found peace with himself and a lover to call his own can absolutely appreciate this beautiful story.

I believe, though, that Forster has written a touching love story, which will be accessible to anyone with an open mind and a caring, seasoned heart. The story of Maurice and Clive has been lived, in one form or another, by every one of us. The victory of Maurice and Alec is almost shout-out-loud joyous.

I have much more to say about this novel, but I suppose the only real suggestion I can make is this: read it.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, An Introduction by J.D. Salinger

Broke my heart. Salinger stuns me. I wish more than anything that I could find him and spend a day just chatting with him. No interviews. No prying. Just talking about the weather.

Raise High and Seymour my not be my favorite “stories,” but I think these two installments of the Glass family literary legend are wholly necessary, especially Seymour. There is something incredibly moving and almost intolerably painful about Seymour’s story and about Buddy’s inability to concretely express the unique love that these two brothers share.

Salinger just seeps right into my bone marrow, and I can’t ever seem to kick the habit.

The Young Merlin Trilogy (Passager, Hobby, and Merlin) by Jane Yolen

Very interesting re-working of the tale of Merlin’s boyhood. The stories are interesting, exciting, and enjoyable – but they’re so short and fast-paced, it really leaves me craving more. This is good and bad. Good, because the stories obviously have something attractive and engaging about them. Bad, because there’s not enough there to leave me feeling satisfied. I want more! (I will probably end up researching the stories of Merlin for months to come, thanks to this series).

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

I fear the title, “Possession: A Romance,” might attract a broad audience, one which will likely be unable to process all that goes on in this incredibly complex novel. No doubt, Byatt has created a masterpiece with this work. She weaves creative poetry, prose, essay, and literary scholarship with near flawless precision. Yet, and intentionally so, the novel will successfully serve only a small group of readers – those who are not just literature lovers, but readers with a substantial working understanding of literary theory and criticism. The pace is slow, and the references (both real and imaginary) to literary personages and works are difficult to wade through for a typical reader. As a literature scholar, however, I can honestly say that this is a work of epic proportion. Byatt leaves me stunned and envious.

Harold’s End by J.T. Leroy

Lot’s of editing/surface error problems which can be a bit distracting but, overall, the story is good. I don’t personally find it as disturbing as many reviewers seem to – not as much as, say, Sarah. (For really disturbing and experimental gay fiction, look up Dennis Cooper). However, in spite of myself, Harold’s End moved me quite a bit. More so after I sat down to think about the story and what it meant. A boy hustler, trying to make it on his own, meets one seemingly decent man who weans him from drugs and never forces him into anything. Even gives him a pet, Harold, to love and care for – then suddenly and without warning, he throws the boy back out into the streets. Really quite beautiful.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien has created an incredible universe, with which all future fantasy writers are doomed to compete. Though the dense description and Bible-like lineage lists can get dreary and overwhelming, the overall story, especially its imagery and themes, more than make up for it.

Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia M. Axline

Touching and fascinating story about a young boy whose behaviour is quite unusual. He appears to be intelligent, but he never communicates with anyone – his frustrated parents have given up hope on him but his teachers and one psychologist dare to hope for more. And their hopes possibly save this incredible boy’s life. The editing/proofreading of this printing isn’t exactly up to par, but the story (a true one) is definitely worth reading through the textual errors. Really enjoyed it.

My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper

One of Dennis Cooper’s most incredible works. Two gay brothers (one who accepts what he is, the other denies it) both fall in love with the same boy – a depressed teenager with no real capacity for love. The boys’ rejection sends them into the arms of one another, fulfilling the sexual/physical desires they imagine having with their disturbed friend. The teen kills himself, which sends the brothers into confusion and insanity. Unbelievably sad, scary, and painful. Cooper is brutally honest in his depiction of gay teenage life, desire, and rejection – and all the psychological turmoil that

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