AIDS, Edmund White, Friendship, Gay Lit, GLBT, Green Carnation Prize, New York, Sexuality

Review: Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White (The Green Carnation Prize)

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This is Book #1 for our Green Carnation Prize reading project.  For more information on the project and on the Green Carnation Prize itself, please visit This Post.

About the Book:

Format: Hardcover

Published: January 1st, 2012

Publisher: Bloomsbury UK

Description:

“Jack Holmes and Will Wright arrive in New York in the calm before the storm of the 1960s. Coworkers at a cultural journal, they soon become good friends. Jack even introduces Will to the woman he will marry. But their friendship is complicated: Jack is also in love with Will. Troubled by his subversive longings, Jack sees a psychiatrist and dates a few women, while also pursuing short-lived liaisons with other men. But in the two decades of their friendship, from the first stirrings of gay liberation through the catastrophe of AIDS, Jack remains devoted to Will. And as Will embraces his heterosexual sensuality, nearly destroying his marriage, the two men share a newfound libertinism in a city that is itself embracing its freedom.

Moving among beautifully delineated characters in a variety of social milieus, Edmund White brings narrative daring and an exquisite sense of life’s submerged drama to this masterful exploration of friendship, sexuality, and sensibility during a watershed moment in history.”

-From Goodreads.com.

My Thoughts:

Reading Jack Holmes and His Friend is, for me, like visiting an old friend who I haven’t seen in a while.  In years gone-by, I have read and enjoyed other White novels, including A Boy’s Own Story and The Beautiful Room is Empty.  As with any reunion, though, one notices certain differences.  For instance, the two books read previously are both semi-autobiographical (or, as I would prefer to call them, creative non-fiction).  This one, though, is a bit more difficult to figure out.  The primary character, Jack, is a gay man with aversions to homosexuality.  I actually saw quite a bit of myself in him (at first – but only at first!), which was fun, as I usually do not identify at all with fictional gay characters.

Jack has a difficult time coming to terms with is sexuality, though he does eventually accept himself, after attempting, through physical action, therapy, and other methods to “fix” himself and become heterosexual.  He also struggles his entire life with being in love with the man (Will) who becomes his best friend.  Some readers have found this relationship cliché, but I would argue that 1) something is not cliché simply because it happens often in real life and 2) White handles this yearning, in Jack, with a sense of realism that is not often found in these types of situations—it does not feel like a “puppyish” type of unrequited love, as might be found in YA books.

Readers should also be prepared for quite a bit of masterfully crafted erotic segments, both heterosexual and homosexual.  White has always portrayed sexuality and sexual situations in a naked (no pun intended) uninhibited way, and that certainly still holds true.  Readers who are expecting a purely “gay” tale, though, will be in for a surprise, as the heterosexual escapades seem, to me, just as accurately and intimately detailed as the homosexual ones.

What I find most appealing about the story, though, is its temporal reach.  The novel spans decades and it is fascinating to watch how the friendship between Jack & Will changes over time (as well as how they themselves change), but also to witness the important historical events and movements that take place, particularly the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted the gay community of New York.  I did find Jack’s “growth” a bit contrived and forced – I will leave the impetus for that growth out of this review, so readers can discover and evaluate it for themselves; but, I for one would have liked to see that development come from a “purer” place (if that can be said to exist).

Some of the difficulty of this book is in its structure.  While the prose is beautiful, the back-and-forth narration, from Jack’s perspective (but in third-person), to Will’s perspective, and then reversed again, is a bit odd and distracting.  I understand that White wanted the reader to relate closely to both the gay and straight characters, to experience their world through the eyes of both friends, but I wonder if a simpler, consistent third-person narrator might have been more effective in serving this purpose.

Would I recommend this book?  I would, indeed.  Is it worthy of The Green Carnation Prize?  Well, fortunately, that is not for me to decide!  I do see how and why this book made its way onto the short list.  White might be breaking-ground with his look at adult male relationships, here.  Can a gay man and a straight man be best friends?  Absolutely.  But if that gay man happens to be in love (obsessed) with his friend?  Complications!  Those situations and complications do happen, though, and they have not yet been extensively explored in fiction.  Although its structure and style might leave a bit to be desired, Jack Holmes and His Friend absolutely has a place on the shelf and adds a certain something to the canon of gay literature.  It is also an interesting read for those interested in cultural studies (particularly 1960s/70s New York City), the nature of friendship, and sexuality.

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Up Next in Our Series on the Green Carnation Prize Short-List:

December 4th: Scenes from Early Life – Philip Hensher (Ana of Things Mean A Lot)

December 5th: A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale (Mat of MatLee Reviews)

December 6th: Carry the One by Carol Anshaw (Cass of Bonjour Cass!)

December 7thMoffie by Andrew Carl Van Der Merwe (No review scheduled – please comment if you would like to read/review this book for our project!)

December 10th: Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Before he Stole Me Ma by Kerry Hudson (Jodie of Book Gazing)

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Events, Gay Lit, GLBT, Green Carnation Prize, Lesbian Lit, LGBT, Literary Others Event

The Green Carnation Reading Project

Hello, Readers!

I wanted to share some information about The Green Carnation Prize.  This might be of particular interest to those who participated in last month’s “Literary Others” reading event.  I’m also working with a group of book bloggers on a “Green Carnation Project.”  Essentially, we’re reading the short-listed books, talking about them, and posting our reviews – and those reviews will be going up next week!

About The Green Carnation Prize:

“The Green Carnation Prize is a literary prize for any form of the written word by an LGBT writer. The prize got off to a great start in 2010 as the first award that celebrated the best fiction and memoirs by gay men. It provoked debate, produced an intriguing shortlist and chose a worthy winner in Christopher Fowler’s ‘Paperboy’. In 2011 it was followed by Catherine Hall’s ‘The Proof of Love’” (the prize also “opened itself to any LGBT author worldwide” in 2011).

About The Green Carnation Reading Project:

As many of you know, I was a panelist for this year’s LGBTQ Category of the Independent Literary Awards.  One of the other panelists contacted me with the idea of reading the books that had been short-listed for the Green Carnation Prize, conversing about them, posting reviews for them, and sharing our thoughts with our readers.  It sounded like a great idea to me, so I hopped board!  All of the books on the short-list this year sound good to me (seriously), so I’m excited to be a part of this and to hopefully share with you all (and the readers of the other project members’ blogs) some great new books/authors!

The Project Readers:

Cass of Bonjour Cass

Jodie of Book Gazing

Ana of Things Mean A Lot

Mat of MatLee Reviews

Adam of Roof Beam Reader

The Short List:

Jack Holmes and his Friend – Edmund White (Read by Adam. Review Date: Dec. 3rd)

Scenes from Early Life – Philip Hensher (Read by Ana. Review Date: Dec. 4th)

A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (Read by Mat. Review Date: Dec. 5th)

Carry The One – Carol Anshaw (Read by Cass. Review Date: Dec. 6th)

Moffie – Andre Carl Van Der Merwe (Read by …. Review Date: Dec. 7th) *We are looking for someone who would be interested in reading this book in the next few days and reviewing it by December 7th or 8th.  If you’re interested, please comment or e-mail me!

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson (Read by Jodie. Review Date: Dec 8th)

We are all really looking forward to discussing these books, sharing our thoughts with you all, and waiting impatiently to see who will win the prize (will we be able to predict the winner!?).  Hope you all enjoy the ride!  🙂

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