0482 | A Boy’s Own Story | Edmund White

0482 | A Boy’s Own Story | Edmund White post image

Context: Was reading this when I visited Cafe Lilu in Bahrain for a very nice decaf cappucino.

This is an important book but it is not an easy one to read. The front cover of my edition had blurb on it that said it combined J D Salinger and Oscar Wilde. Well, there’s very little wit but there’s a lot of Holden Caulfield type angst at the world. I’m not a big fan of intimate descriptions of sex either, particularly homosexual sex.

So, why important? Well, it came out in the early 90s at an important time in the gay rights movement, and when the gay community faced the threat of HIV/AIDS also. It gave voice to many who felt the same as Kevin, it’s narrator or who had, like Kevin, grown up in the 1950s and had struggled to find their identity during that era.

At 15, Kevin is a complex individual who is difficult to understand and who is confused by who he is and how he should express that. In that way, he’s exactly like the rest of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, particularly in our teenage years. This has undoubtedly been strengthened by relationships with his father and mother which aren’t exactly right. His father seems distant and almost a stranger to him. His mother seems far too friendly for a mother. I wondered whether this has something to do with the nurture of Kevin’s sexual choices, as opposed to their nature.

He sets out to satisfy his inner longings for the boys/men around him and very often does so. Like Holden Caulfied in Catcher, he doesn’t give a fig about what the moral or social implications of his actions might be and this continues right until the very end of the book when he has a run in with a teacher in which he plays a less than praiseworthy role.

About halfway through though, he has a date with one of the most attractive girls in the school and, the way it’s described, you get the feeling that had she reciprocated the obvious feelings he has for her, then he would have abandoned his homosexuality for heterosexuality. He even wonders himself if this encounter will finally cure him of his homosexual feelings. He talks as if he’s been trying to shake them all his life despite his behaviour telling a contrary story. But she rejects him and so he turns once again to those of his own sexuality. This didn’t quite fit right for me; it seemed far too arbitrary for such an important element of one’s identity.

Although Kevin is often confused and concerned about his sexual propensities, there wasn’t a moment in the book where I sympathised with him. He’s just not a very nice character. Again, like Holden Caulfield, he was a character I watched behaving in a way that seemed devoid of emotion and driven by desires he himself didn’t understand or hold any control over. And he didn’t seem any more in control or at a deeper level of understanding by the end of the novel. Just more determined to let his desires take him where they would. Hmmm…

OPENING LINE

We’re going for a midnight boat ride.

CLOSING LINE

This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show

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