Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DANCER FROM THE DANCE by Andrew Holleran

Here is an American novelist who, at the very least, is refreshingly unafraid to advertise his literary ambition. Holleran takes his title from Yeats, opens and closes his novel with epistolary exchanges a la Les Liaisons Dangereuses, alludes to Gatsby in the first paragraph of his narrative, and rarely misses the chance to toss in a classical allusion (Xerxes, anyone?). Perhaps the most surprising thing about Dancer From The Dance is that it almost lives up to its grand allusions. Holleran attempts to write The Gay Gatsby, a novel that will do for gay life in 1970s New York what Fitzgerald did for a somewhat 'straighter' variety of life fifty years earlier. He wants to immortalize it with a defining romantic tragedy. Amazingly, he pretty much succeeds. (The fellatio pun on that last word is entirely appropriate.) There are minor flaws--a few unnecessary repetitions, an emphasis on atmosphere at the expense of narrative, an annoying confusion of Dionysus with Dionysius (I can't tell if the mistake is Holleran's or the narrator's; either way, an editor should've caught it)--but these are indeed minor flaws, if flaws at all. Dancer From The Dance is an excellent novel. Formally original and beautifully written, it deserves to be promoted out of the gaylit ghetto and into the American canon. It deserves to dance with the works it intertextually engages: The Great Gatsby, Mrs. Dalloway, "The Beast in the Jungle," many others. It's not only good enough to play in those big leagues; it's good enough to win.

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