MiniReview: "Dancer from the Dance" by Andrew Holleran

The deadly May 1977 fire at the Everard Baths in New York City is a symbol of the end of an era in Holleran's novel ... but little did he know that far worse was just around the corner for gay men in the 1980s.

What is it?

It’s a classic gay novel by Andrew Holleran, first published in 1978.


What’s it about?

In terms of plot, it’s mostly the story of Malone, a gorgeous but ultimately inscrutable man who lives at the epicentre of New York’s gay nightlife of the 1970s, going from being a shy and reluctant homosexual to a highly lucrative career as a rent boy.


When asked what the book is about, you said “in terms of plot …” So I’m assuming there’s more here than just a plot.

There really is. The novel takes on the most basic question of gay life: what do gay guys want? In the person of Malone, this question is really examined under a microscope. Having a certain amount of residual wealth, he is able to devote himself 100% to living the gay dream in the great gay metropolis. But is it all about sex? or is it a quest for love? or ultimately a spiritual journey? Holleran succeeds in the almost impossible feat of describing gay life in all its craziness and seediness while at the same time reconciling this with the notion that homosexual men may actually be engaged in a dedicated search for Beauty that looks something like an attempt to connect with the Divine.


Okay, now you’re making it sound heavy, academic and philosophical.

It isn’t! All of that is rendered in the most delightfully camp way. But at another level, the novel is a homage to post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS gay New York, and in this sense it is a historical treasure chest as valuable for the world it preserves as Dickens’s novels are for their portraits of 19th-century London. This is a colourful world of epigrammatic queens and public-washroom encounters and Quaaludes and poppers and, of course, discos.


Sounds like you liked it quite a bit.

It’s a gay classic, no question about it. Required reading. And I’ll be re-reading it. There is so much wisdom, sharp observation, and sensual language here. Read it!


I’m sensing a star … or even stars (using the Michelin system)?


Three stars. Three stars! The highest number. Without question one of the handful of best gay novels I’ve read.

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