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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Random Reviews: HOTEL DE DREAM

I read voraciously and have been writing reviews for years, both on Goodreads, for Amazon Vine, and the Historical Novels Review. So, I decided to start a Random Review feature here on my blog where I'll offer select reviews of books I personally enjoyed. Most have a historical component, of course. Hope you enjoy!

Edmund White. HOTEL DE DREAM.

Edmund White is rightfully considered one of our finest living English-language writers, though his output is not as prolific as others in his cadre. Nevertheless, he has carved an indelible mark for himself in portraying both gay life and history in his works, his prose always luminous and his insights into the foibles of the human condition often profound.

In his deceptively slim novel, Hotel de Dream, Mr White re-imagines the final days of American literary phenomenon Stephen Crane, who is wasting away from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight. Acclaimed posthumously for his work, Crane was only a one-hit wonder in his lifetime; and as he slowly suffocates from his illness, he labors to dictate his final novel - a strange, elegiac tale of a boy prostitute in 1890s New York and the staid, married banker whose obsessive love for the boy precipitates his own downfall. Woven in between scenes of Crane and his work-in-progress is the story of how Crane himself met a similar boy years before and how that fateful encounter haunts him still.

Portraits of Henry James and other literary luminaries pepper the pages - the depiction of pompous and reluctantly proper James is startlingly amusing - and balancing it all could prove exhausting, not to mention cumbersome, in the hands of a lesser writer. But Mr White commands his triple narrative with consummate style, giving his moribund protagonist a mordant wit that makes light of his dire circumstances, even as Crane reflects on the swift-fire passage of time and depths of passion to which we can descend, as exemplified by the boy's doomed suitor.

This is a brilliantly executed novel, brimming with respect for our flawed humanity. White's portrayal of the boy himself is masterful - a jaded youth of the streets who retains only a semblance of innocence yet remains utterly naive to the vicissitudes he unleashes. Likewise, White's evocation of the morals of a bygone era and stark class disparities in New York, where the wealthy rub elbows with the downtrodden and destitute, is vividly rendered, but never ponderous.

If you read only one work by Edmund White - and you should read more - let it be this one

3 comments:

Lauralee Jacks said...

Great Review!

LilKittie said...

Great review! I've read the book a few months ago when I was in NYC. Somebody has forgotten it in the lobby and I had to wait, so I decided to pick it up. One really great book, and I also got a deal when buying it later, so I could re-read it.

C.W. Gortner said...

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the review!