Our Young Man is the epic gay novel Edmund White was destined to write, because he is perhaps the only author who could have written it. Not only because he is brilliant writer, but also because he is a survivor. He can write of a time when everyone in New York believed that cocaine was the only drug that wasn’t addictive, because he lived through that time. He can vividly describe the scene at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the eighties, because he was there. And, because he is a survivor, Mr. White can perfectly render that period in time when every gay man in New York convinced himself that only men who had been infected with multiple STDs came down with AIDS. It is ironic and entirely appropriate that this Great American Gay novel has a French protagonist. Of course Mr. White is highly knowledgeable about France–having spent several years living there.
In Our Young Man, Edmund White achieves something that is seemingly impossible: namely, getting into the mind of a character who is anything but introspective. The hero of the novel realizes early on that he might possibly be able to make some money from his good looks. It doesn’t take long for him to hook up with a manager who sends him all over Europe for photo shoots. He becomes a supermodel and his life seems to flick by as though frames in a movie. Although he makes adjustments along the way, much of his life just seems to happen to him. Thus he becomes a spectator of his own experience: a camera. And through this camera, Mr. White presents two decades of queer history.
It should be noted that while Our Young Man is a historical gay novel, that is not all it is. For though the protagonist is not at all introspective, he is certainly not flat. Unlike the photographs of him, the portrait Mr. White paints is three-dimensional. Indeed he may well be the most psychologically fully-developed character Mr. White has ever written.
Queer Reader strongly recommends this Great American Gay Novel.
Edmund White’s Our Young Man is published by Bloomsbury.