Reviews

Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gurganus leaps from the best-selling Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All to a group of gifted, ambitious, and overwrought young artists in AIDS-shrouded 1980s Manhattan. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In 1980, Southern boy Hartley Mims Jr. heads north to the great, wicked city of New York to do what every young man has ever dreamed of doing there: become a great artist and enjoy love (or at least sex) in all its multitudinous forms. He succeeds on both counts, building a career as a writer (at first living hand to mouth, wondering what his parents would think of the bathtub in his kitchen) and falling in love simultaneously with Robert, a composer, and Angelina, a.k.a. Alabama, an artist whose angry paintings belie her genteel background. In this heady atmosphere, "being a `good' painter and being `good in bed' [were] somewhat interchangeable," with Mims and his coterie of like-minded friends all "brave Magellans circumnavigating the belt and what was under it, circumcised or not." And then AIDS strikes, slowly knocking out friends one by one, and Mims becomes a guardian angel to the dying. Rich, protean, profligate, gorgeously written, and occasionally as self-absorbed as its characters, who are redeemed by their devotion and tenderness, this novel runs rampant with sexual and creative energy as it admirably captures an era that was ablaze‘until the lights started going out. For all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/97.]‘Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

La vie boheme in New York City in the 1980s is the setting of Gurganus's (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All) fierce, bleakly funny and resonant new novel. The twist here is that the narrator, Richard Hartley Mims Jr., and most of the other characters, are gay. In the heady years when it was chic to come out of the closet, a group of young, ambitious artists, musicians and writers descend on Manhattan from all parts of the country, possessed of talent, joie de vivre and the determination to succeed. They play the party scene, work at menial jobs to support themselves and enjoy the firm conviction that someday they will be famous. Initially, Hartley's discursive, episodic (perhaps semi-autobiographical) chronicle sometimes veers into self-absorbed prattle as he recalls his years growing up in conservative North Carolina, his fledgling efforts as a writer and his sexually charged friendship with the decade's most gorgeous man, genius composer Robert Gustafson, and with outrageous, androgynous artist Angie (aka "Alabama") Byrnes. These somewhat tedious asides are redeemed by hilarious scenes that verge on farce (30 dildoes fall out of a bag on the subway; two of Hartley's suitors meet in his closet and can't resist making love to each other). The specter of AIDs hovers over the novel, however, and gradually transforms the raunchy and pun-prone narrative into a wrenching threnody to lost youth and talent cut down. When the pandemic strikes and Hartley becomes a caretaker to his dying friends, Gurganus's gallows humor and innate compassion transform this material into a wrenching elegy for an innocent time when, to the gay community, artistic fulfillment, fame, love and happiness seemed just within reach. 100,000 first printing; Random House audio. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Gurganus is a gifted and magnanimous storyteller. He drew deeply on his southern roots in Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1989) and White People (1991), and now, in this bittersweet tale of love, ambition, and sorrow, he shares his intimate knowledge of life in New York City during the avaricious and coked-up 1980s, when anything seemed possible except for the terrible disease that claims the lives of so many young and talented men. In scenes of shimmering, metaphorical grace, Gurganus unveils the city's exuberant gay culture, illuminates the connection between homosexuality and the arts, and dramatizes the sort of unbounded love that survives the most convoluted of relationships and tragic of deaths. Gurganus' hero, Hartley Mims Jr., a true mensch, finally leaves North Carolina for New York at age 33 to get serious about writing and falls instantly in love with two dazzling beings: Robert, perhaps the most beautiful and coveted man in New York and an aspiring composer, and Angie, a ravishingly tomboyish, extraordinarily talented painter. They forge a complex three-way friendship predicated by Angie and Hartley's worship of Robert, who always asks his friends, even after the most decadent of nights, "What did you learn?" Hartley's sincere efforts to answer that grand question keep him sane as all around him goes mad. In Edmund White's tale of life at the dawn of the age of AIDS, Farewell Symphony [BKL S 15 97], he uses Haydn's vanishing orchestra to symbolize the toll of the scourge. Gurganus, too, turns to music: Robert is writing a symphony about the sinking of the Titanic. Musing on all the creative endeavors of his friends, Hartley, who, like Walt Whitman, tends to the fallen in a horrific war, concludes, "Private effort, not group sex, became the deep dark secret of our circle, our age." Intimations, thankfully, of immortality. --Donna Seaman