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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Forgetting Elena by Edmund White 
18th-Apr-2006 11:59 pm
One of the books purchased while on "vacation" in Florida.

White, Edmund. Forgetting Elena. 1973. New York: Vintage International, 1994.
Summary: Billy lives on an island, attempting to navigate, with mixed success, its alien conventions, manners, and social paranoia, which appear to be newly in flux. Then he meets a woman, Elena, who rails against the island's absurdity and encourages Billy to do the same. In the end, however, we discover that Billy is the returning prince and that a part of the ceremony is the erasure of his past--namely Elena, who supposedly kills herself in the end.
Comments: This novel is weird, and you start out with absolutely no clue just HOW weird. At first, you think everything is to be taken literally, that this is a real island, somewhere in Europe, perhaps, and that there is a normal reason for Billy to be boarding with Herbert on somewhat uncertain ground (Kept Boy??? There is of course some subtle homoeroticism here...) and not knowing the customs of the place. But, as it turns out, this is fantasy, allegory, a comment on a society that is attempting egalitarianism but it instead just creating a new form of tyranny, a society that is morally bankrupt, empty at the center. Indeed, Billy's story is a failure to rebel and spark revolution, and, after his failure, he becomes the epitome of the reigning (in this case, literally) order. I'm not a fan of 70's gay fiction such as Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance with its nihilism and failed search for greater meaning, but White's debut novel is, admittedly, the most unusual and creative entry of the type that I've seen thus far. Still, I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as A Boy's Own Story.
Notes: trade paperback, 1st printing
Rating: 5.5/10 - This novel sports an aesthetic that not everyone will appreciate, but you may want to check it out anyway for the careful construction of its narrative.
(Screened comment)
19th-Apr-2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
I really adored FORGETTING ELENA book when I read it. It's been a while so many of the salient details escape me, but I found the thinly veiled and scathing depiction of 1970's gay life on Fire Island to be very funny. I also thought that the writing was quite beautiful, as I recall. You did hit on the theme - that, although, ostensibly, they are creating a place where everyone is free from judgement, they've actually just set up their own, alternative, set of stringent rules by which to judge everyone.

I'm disappointed that you didn't enjoy it more. Ah well. Laters.

Huh. I didn't realize that it was a Fire Island satire (I often seem to be woefully and unknowingly short of historical context for the modern books I read), but that makes perfect sense on hindsight. It also reinforces my blanket opinion that this is niche writing, written for and by a specific audience; the "average" reader is not going to fully appreciate this novel, which is why I gave it a 5. (5's are the "I thought it was okay but you might not." Higher numbers are for things that I think the "average" person would be able to get something out of.)

Still, the prose was oddly impersonal (if typically beautiful), and the lack of genuine emotional sentiment such as what I've seen in some of White's other works made it less appealing than his memoir.

(Deleting your original post. If you're still in private contact with anyone on my friends list, feel free to ask them what I said re: your situation when I found out, albeit belatedly, about it.)
28th-Apr-2006 11:06 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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