12 May 2010

City Boy by Edmund White

Flap Copy: "When Edmund White left the Midwest after college he had an opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. at Harvard. Instead, he followed a lover to New York City. 'City Boy' chronicles the remarkable life he made for himself in the 1960s and '70s, in a city economically devastated but incandescent with art and ideas ...

Recalling life in a more sordid Manahattan, in an era of transformation, White records his ambitions and desires, remembers lovers and literary heroes, and displays the wit, candor and generosity that have defined his unique voice over the decades."

I received this book in November and tried to read it then but couldn't get through it. I picked it up twice more before finally finishing it, and after all that effort to read the book I'm a little disappointed.

White spins an engaging story, mixing comic anecdotes with serious reflection on himself and his peers at a time of great change in their lives - but I just wasn't interested. An excessive amount of name dropping turned me off from the very beginning, and the rest of the book did little to change my impressions. I think White has a lot of interesting things to say, and overall is an insightful and talented writer - clearly, since he overcame the early writers' block he describes in the book to publish 23 books - but his prose here was clumsy, often repetitive and even gossipy in tone. I thought I would like that casual, 'have I got a story for you' feel - instead it made the book a difficult one for me to finish.

I understand that White's life and writing have been vastly impacted by the time and place in which his adult life began - there were times, however, many times throughout the book, where entire paragraphs read like a roster of the literary and cultural icons of his time. Good for him, for meeting and observing all of those people. But was that all he had to write about?

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