‘A lot of my friends say they think I’m a neglected writer,” Edmund White says, taking a short break from his holiday in Provence. “And I think it’s because of the gay thing, you know?” On the other hand, he admits, “In America, you almost need niche marketing of some sort, and if you don’t have a gimmick, then you can barely be published.”
The autobiographical novels that have made White famous (and last year’s very graphic memoir, My Lives) have led to charges that he’s a professional narcissist, overly enamored with his own florid, Proustian style. But his surprisingly spare new novel, Hotel de Dream, dodges that pigeonhole. In 1900, the writer Stephen Crane, dying of tuberculosis, dictates from his deathbed a final novel, about a teenage male prostitute he met on the Bowery, to his companion Cora. (White based it on an apocryphal story about Crane.) And where Proust famously turned his love interest into a woman, White’s Crane is doing the opposite—giving the boy attributes of his beloved Cora (who actually was a former prostitute). “I was very interested,” White says, “in the idea of a straight man looking at gay life.”
So is White done writing about his gay friends—and about himself? Not exactly. “It energizes me,” he says. “If I can brag, I think so many writers are creative-writing teachers at provincial campuses”—White teaches at Princeton—“and don’t have very eventful lives. I’ve done lots of things. I feel like I could write on and on autobiographically without repeating myself.”
Hotel de Dream
By Edmund White, Ecco; September 1.