Very nice cover of a 2014 reissue of David Leavitt's collection.
What is this?
A collection of short stories by American writer David Leavitt, first published in 2001.
Collections of stories are often like record albums, where there’s one good song and the rest is crap. Is it like that?
Not remotely. There are nine stories in the book, and at least five of them are stories I’d like to read again.
What’s your take on David Leavitt?
He’s one of those writers who is so enjoyable to read that I find myself wondering whether his writing can really be all that good. But it is good! He’s a learned fellow, and the stories jump around in time and place, which makes for an enjoyable collection. It’s always intelligent and engaging.
Yeah, well, Leavitt is one of the most prominent of writers who proudly display their homosexuality. He’s the kind of guy who gets asked to write intros to new editions of “classic” gay literature (Oscar Wilde, etc.). And much of his writing does talk very directly about the experience of gay men. What I find particularly appealing about his writing—although this could also be limiting, I’d have to read more of his stuff—is that his gay characters are portrayed as more or less “normal” people (whatever that means) who happen to have a particular sexual orientation and have to deal with stuff like AIDS or societal disapproval as a result. He doesn’t seem to feel a need to show his gay characters as more or less heroic, or more or less messed up, than anyone else.
So what’s he got to say about the experience of being a not overly heroic, not spectacularly messed-up gay in this collection?
Lots. If there’s a theme in the collection, I’d say it’s the power struggles in gay relationships, the gay man as “troublemaker.” There’s a story that juxtaposes Lord Alfred Douglas, a notoriously manipulative fellow, with a young gay man in San Francisco who wants to “use” his lover to contract AIDS. Another story I loved is a series of e-mail exchanges between gay academics, one of whom manages brilliantly to pit the others against each other, against a backdrop of exposing, in a biography, the secret gay life of a famous pianist. It’s delicious.
Were there stories you didn’t much like?
I’d have to say I much preferred the stories that dealt with gay lives to the ones that didn’t. But the gay stories are all the longer ones, so that was fine! And maybe Leavitt is just more passionate about writing about gay folk and their entourages. He does it most enticingly.
Stars (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system)?
One star. For anyone interested in the gay experience, it’s a fab collection. For my part, I’ll be reading more David Leavitt soon.