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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Hotel de Dream by Edmund White 
13th-Jan-2009 11:59 pm
White, Edmund. Hotel de Dream. New York: Ecco, 2007.
          Summary: On his deathbed, on a desperate trip from England to Germany, American author Stephen Crane dictates to his beloved partner Cora the story of The Painted Boy, a tragic tale of a boy prostitute named Elliot and his middle-aged lover Theodore.
          Comments: I'm not exactly sure what it is about contemporary gay white male writers and the urge to appropriate the lives of dead white male writers for their own work. There's Geoff Ryman's Was (L. Frank Baum). There's Colm Tóibín's The Master (Henry James). Now we have Edmund White's Hotel de Dream (Stephen Crane), and it is nearly as good. And although written with White's own personal gratification in mind, it is easily the best thing I've ever seen him do. Gone is the tiresome, elliptical prose, the mind-numbing, never-ending descriptions of anything and everything. Instead, the prose is tight, spare in its elegance, and instantly transporting. (He takes some swipes at Henry James here, and I can't help but wonder how much of it was for dramatic effect, and how much of it was indicative of a change of creative heart. If it's the latter, it's not a moment too soon.)
          Thematically, this compact work goes pretty much where you'd expect it to go. Crane's "obscene" manuscript gets surpressed twice and is never published after his death, and "Theodore's tragedy," as Crane puts it, is never stated outright but nevertheless remains clear enough: A society that forces "inverts" into a life of shame and hiding, distorting their relationships with others and leading to eventual self-destruction. But the way that the novel weaves in and out of Crane's life and the text of his story is subtle and skillful; I loved reading both sections equally. I was even willing to forgive some glaringly anachronistic dialogue and the way that Cora is depicted as the all-embracing feminine angel who exists solely to look after her man. Anyway, this is an Edmund White novel for those who do not usually like Edmund White...and I say this as one who is not normally a fan. But Hotel de Dream is simply a pleasure to read that's over all too quickly. Like Crane's life, really.
          Rating: 7.5/10 - Spare, elegant, and affective, without being overly presumptuous. A beautifully-crafted text which masterfully marries form and content.
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