White, Edmund. The Beautiful Room Is Empty. 1988. New York: Vintage, 1994. Summary
: The unnamed narrator, a fictionalized version the author himself, makes his way through high school, college, and beyond while coping with his homosexuality and learning self-confidence. After losing what he believes to be his true love, he doesn't want to live anymore but ultimately finds the nascent Gay Pride movement in the wake of Stonewall to be sufficient compensation. Comments
: You know, even though I don't generally like memoirs (and GLBT memoirs in particular) I gave this novel a try and tried hard to like it. Really, I did. But, in the end, it did absolutely nothing for me. I do not need Edmund White's life story to normalize, interpret, and enculturate my own identity as a gay man (since I'm not a gay man), and I don't need the explicit sex scenes, either--for instruction OR titillation. Otherwise, barring the homosexual element, this is your standard tale of the privileged and tormented, and, despite being approximately the age now that the narrator was back then, I found no springboard for empathy anywhere as I did in the prequel A Boy's Own Story
. It's all so tedious, and there's very little to connect the various unremarkable subplots. Fraternities, bars, tearooms, gyms, nightclubs...excuse me while I yawn. Yeah, yeah, I'm sure this was a wonderful walk down memory lane for all the unfortunates dying of AIDS in the late 80's (and with its timely debut it won lots of awards), and White deserves some credit for being among the first to write about the pre-Stonewall gay experience, but he has depressingly little to actually say about it. Never mind the skillful prose; there's so little to take away from the reading! And I'm just not convinced by the way rejection in love transitions so quickly into the Stonewall riot. I don't care if it's literally true--it still looks contrived...and I still feel like I just wasted a good five hours of my time. Notes
: trade paperback, 6th printing Rating
- Tedious and unfunny. These two words describe both White's novel and the life of his semi-autobiographical narrator. I guess it's only enjoyable if you actually lived it yourself.