Wednesday, April 16, 2014


If you're looking for a work of literary criticism that is provocative, original, and eschews the jargon of academic 'theory,' Unlimited Embrace is a book you will want to read. It's the book Edmund Wilson might have written had he been born later and gayer, a kind of Axel's Castle of postwar gay male literature in which the author performs close readings of 18 works, from Giovanni's Room and Myra Breckenridge through A Single Man and Faggots to The Mad Man and Martin and John, readings that together delineate a canon and illuminate its essential characteristics. And unlike most of what passes under the label of 'gay studies,' Woodhouse's work spends no time genuflecting before the Great God Foucault. In fact, the Gallic cueball's name doesn't even appear in the index--not because the author is innocent of theory but because, it seems, he has moved beyond poststructuralism into a place both more aesthetic and more humanistic. His chapter on Samuel Delany's The Mad Man is especially pleasing, as this little known and very strange and dangerously beautiful novel richly deserves the kind of critical attention that will gain it readers and save it from oblivion. (A mildly narcissistic aside: It was a blurb extracted from this chapter and printed on the back cover of my copy of Delany's book that led me to seek out Woodhouse; otherwise I would likely never have read one of the most readable and enjoyable critical works of recent years.) There are illuminating chapters on Edmund White's fiction and James Purdy's Narrow Rooms (which I must, must, must read; if Cormac McCarthy is William Faulkner on acid, Purdy sounds like Faulkner on poppers, Benzedrine, Jack Daniels and PCP, with an Ecstasy chaser). Woodhouse even gives us fair-minded considerations of writers he doesn't particularly like, such as Larry Kramer and David Leavitt. Unlimited Embrace will send you back to books you've already read and encourage you to read a few you've probably never heard of. All in all, this is a very impressive critical performance that deserves to be widely read.

FYI, here are the 18 books/authors Woodhouse considers in-depth:
  • Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
  • short stories by Tennessee Williams
  • Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
  • Straight to Hell by Boyd McDonald
  • Frisk by Dennis Cooper
  • Narrow Rooms by James Purdy
  • Faggots by Larry Kramer
  • Dancer From The Dance by Andrew Holleran
  • The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt
  • A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
  • A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham
  • short stories by Ethan Mordden
  • The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket by John Weir
  • The Mad Man by Samuel Delany
  • Valley of the Shadow by Christopher Davis
  • Martin and John by Dale Peck
  • Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett
  • the fiction of Edmund White

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