Today I was able to spend a little time in the library, and because I have been watching so much television lately, I was able to devour this little book by Edmund White.This book is a very special boy’s own story. The nameless protagonist is both awkwardly self-conscious and painfully naive as he grows up in a world that categorizes all of his innermost feelings as unspeakable taboos. The book covers his adolescence roughly from age 11 to 18, although not in chronological order. The events and associated responses from our protagonist are at times funny, sweet and romantic, and tragic (and to me, a little hot), but the really outstanding passages are in the protagonist’s reflections upon his relationship with his mother and father.
I have a weakness for coming of age fiction, and that goes double for gay coming of age fiction, and every book I read brings a flood of self-reflection and mixed emotions. I have a couple of things I would like to share, one rather deep, one not at all.
1. The part of the book that I found most affecting was when the protagonist is describing the way that he interacts with his father not through verbal communication but through shared love of music.
I mention the constant music because, to my mind at least, it served as an invisible link between my father and me. He never discussed music beyond saying that the German Requiem was “damn nice” or that the violin and cello concerto was “one hell of a piece,” and even these judments he made with a trace of embarassment; for him, music was emotion and he did not belive in discussing feelings.
His real love was the late Brahms, the piano Intermezzi and especially the two clarinet sonatas. These pieces, as unpredictable as thought and as human as conversation, filled the house night after night. He could not have liked them as background music to work to, since their abrupt changes of volume and dynamics must have made them too arresting to dismiss. I never showered with my dad, I never saw him naked, not once, but we did immerse ouselves, side by side, in those passionate streams every night. As he worked at his desk and I sat on his couch, reading or daydreaming, we bathed in music. Did he feel the same things I felt? Perhaps I ask this only because now that he’s dead I fear we shared nothing and my long captivity in his house represented to him only a slight inconvenience, a major expense, a fair to middling dissappointment, but I like to think that music spoke to us in similar ways and acted as the source and transcript of a shared rapture.
This kind of hit me in the gut when I first read it, because like that of the novel, my own father is remote and not prone to share feelings or emotions, and more often than not, ideas either. And so, most of our conversations revolve around music. Like in White’s novel, my father and I do not share many common interests. Music has been the thing that has bound us together for as long as I can remember, and all of the happy memories that I have with him have been related to music. It is actually something that I have been thinking about recently. I have been wondering if as much as I try and laugh off the idea of striving for my fathers approval, I have pursued music because it’s the thing that gives him pleasure.
2. This is going to sound even more awfully shallow coming right off of that last thought, but I felt a little chagrined after reading the obligitory section where White’s protagonist goes off to a New England boarding school. Rampant (homo/hetero)sexuality in boarding schools is a well explored trope in everything from The World According to Garp to Matthew Rothschild’s excellent memoir, Dumbfounded. I always feel a little cheated when I read about hot underage gay sex in boarding schools becuase I went to one and that certainly wasn’t part of my experience.