Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Plays Well With Others, by Alan Gurganus

This is a narrator who needs Valium. The frenetic pace of his prose matches that of the striving, hard-scrabble, tumbling lives of the friends he loves so fiercely.  In the club world of 1980's New York there are a lot of drugs going around, but tranquilizers are not among them.

An account of the burgeoning gay arts scene, this book is a paean to the young men who briefly lived and died, mothlike, during an epidemic that rivaled the Black Plague. Hartley Mims is an exile, escaped from his homophobic southern roots to the mecca of artists, performers, scholars, and egotists. He and his friends are close in a way that may be possible only for expats who never even felt at home at home. Their passion for one another is matched only by their competition to be the best artist, the most beloved, the first at everything. Hartley misses first by a hair, and suffers from the great good luck of being the last. Happy, and wondering if that's a decent substitute for genius.

This book made me a little bit tired with its relentless pace, but I liked it a lot. It's fun to read a voice that's so entirely unlike your own. I could never keep up with the young Hartley and his muses, but I wouldn't mind hanging out with the middle-aged version.

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