I expect the Charlaine Harrises and the Stephen Kings, along with the usual political non-fiction books. What I didn't anticipate, and maybe this is my own small-town naïveté bleeding through, are all the novels featuring so much gratuitous sex. If you read my last post, you know of at least one set of racy books that you can check out from the local library -- conveniently located directly across from the town's largest Baptist church, so you can head on over there for a good dose of religion right after scorching your soul on the library's stealthy sex stories.
The last bunch of audiobooks, however, had something far more shocking for me even than Laurel K. Hamilton's fairy porn. I swear to you, dear reader, that my intentions were purely innocent. Because of the limitations of what's on offer and my innate sense of cheapness, I generally pick three or four audiobooks (don't want to have to pay any overdue fines!) from the same general vicinity. I have some standards, but given my options when considering the two little facts I just mentioned, they are pretty low. I've listened to a lot of Clive Cusslers and James Pattersons, despite the lack of imagination in the writing or in the quality of the reading. My philosophy, that even bad books usually have one or two redeeming qualities, almost always comes to the rescue when I'm stuck with a dud.
On my last library outing, I randomly hit the shelf of "H" in the fiction section. Four CD books conveniently stood side by side, so I grabbed them all. I did not waste any time reading the "slipcovers" -- or whatever you want to call the blurbs on audiobooks -- of any of my selections.
Hemingway, Hosseini, Harris, and Hollinghurst. Not bad selections, I thought: a Pulitzer prize winner, a Man Booker award, and two from best seller lists. All those critics (and I'm perhaps being generous by counting the two best sellers as "critiqued" by the public) couldn't be wrong.
Except they could be. Or perhaps my plebeian tastes just aren't in tune with the high-brow critics, because I got a nasty shock out of Alan Hollinghurst's award-winning The Line of Beauty.
I don't consider myself to be a homophobe. I went to a very liberal arts school with a not-so-in-the-closet gay population, and I had many friends who belonged to such a group.
But I don't need an explicit manual on how to have gay male sex.
Nor do I need a manual on how to suck coke up my nose, how to be a part of the promiscuous gay scene of the 1980s, how to fake my way amongst the British upper crust.
The Line of Beauty is supposed to be about exactly what the title implies -- the beauty that the gay male protagonist, Nicholas Guest, sees in other men as well as in literature (but with a very limited focus on Henry James, for the obvious reasons), and in artworks. Gee, lucky him, then, to have been a student at Oxford and to have made friends with wealthy people who provided him with the opportunity to indulge all three.
I am so sad that this is what is award-winning these days, because I kept waiting for the story to get started and I tried to ignore the gay sex scenes, but . . . after five discs of listening to the reader with his oh-so-proper British accent speak in turn about the numerous graphic details that I didn't need to hear and the very boring, standard descriptions of being British and/or being gay in the 1980s, I found I just couldn't bring myself to care. I can list at least 20 shows or movies about the evils of promiscuity and drugs because those themes have been hanging around for a while. A LONG while. Sticking a character into the 1980s and using those two themes -- well, not exactly the makings of a unique story, is it? When Nick started snorting cocaine, I knew I was done.
No, I take that last bit back. Although the scene of Nick getting his coke from his favorite hidey hole forced me to finally admit that the book held no interest for me, I knew I would have a hard time finding any connection, however tenuous, to Nick Guest when I began to suspect that this book was about the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. The author could not have made it any more plain that this topic would be all-important when he first mentioned a gay lover of a gay lover of Nick's who had some kind of sickness that he couldn't quite shake off. I actually tried to read a John Grisham novel once, and I put it down almost immediately because the plot was so immediately apparent. I felt the same way with the first hint of a cough in this book, award-winner or not.
If you are a gay male, your perspective might be quite different than mine. You may think this is the first book to really tell it like it was, and if that's your point of view, I'm glad you find solace in this story. If, like me, you are not in the least bit interested in finding out all you've never wanted to know about the ways to pleasure your gay male lover, let me recommend a different book about HIV and AIDS, one that is both thoughtful and well informed. The History of AIDS covers both the seriousness of the disease and the fear it instilled in most of us at that time, as well as the media and political reactions that fed that fear. You will get a much better story out of this work (a scholarly work, bridging both history and disease) than you can possibly gain from Alan Hollinghurst's prize-winning novel.
Oh, and the redeeming quality of this particular book, given my philosophy? At least I didn't pay for it. I would have been truly pissed had I spent my hard-earned cash on such a bad book.