Friday, January 13, 2017

Birthday Book of the Day: Edmund White's The Farewell Symphony, in the first edition

farewell symphony.jpg

Edmund White, The Farewell Symphony (Knopf, 1997; stated 1st American ed.). ISBN 0-679-43477-1. Hardcover, clipped dust jacket, very good condition. 9”x6”, 413 pp. The pointillist dust jacket image is a surprisingly cheeky, hide-in-plain-sight work of joy and danger.

The New York Times’ Christopher Benfey wrote,

During the last movement of Haydn's ''Farewell'' Symphony, the musicians of the orchestra stop playing one by one, put out their candles and leave the stage. In Edmund White's new novel, that steady attrition becomes a metaphor for the decimation of gay New York -- especially the cultural world of gay writers, artists and dancers -- by the AIDS virus. If comedies end with marriages and tragedies end with deaths, ''The Farewell Symphony'' could hardly be more tragic. By the final pages, as the characters we have met die off one by one, White's unnamed narrator is like Melville's Ishmael, the sole survivor of a cataclysmic wreck.

''The Farewell Symphony'' is the final installment of White's autobiographical trilogy, which began with ''A Boy's Own Story'' (1982), a vivid account of growing up gay in the affluent Midwest of ''new Cadillacs, Negro maids and wineless six-o'clock dinners,'' and continued with ''The Beautiful Room Is Empty'' (1988), a record of the 1960's culminating in the Stonewall uprising of 1969 -- ''our Bastille Day,'' as White called the rebellion that gave birth to the gay liberation movement. In charting his own intellectual and erotic life (as a co-author of ''The Joy of Gay Sex,'' he is not one to conceal what a disapproving older gay writer in this novel calls ''our Athenian pleasures''), White has also chronicled a generation of gay experience. ''I thought that never had a group been placed on such a rapid cycle,'' he writes, ''oppressed in the 50's, freed in the 60's, exalted in the 70's and wiped out in the 80's.''

White, who turns 77 today, surely ranks with Allan Hollinghurst as the leaders of post-Stonewall LGBT fiction. Both stand well their comparison to Henry James, and no one who lived through the 1980s and ‘90s- be they of a small town or great city- can fail to be moved by White’s account of the decimation of two generations while the political classes either tittered, gloated, or just looked at the ground and shuffled their feet.

Besides being the Age of Funerals, the years of The Farewell Symphony are also those of the rise of activism, acting up, and the training of the first generation of take-no-prisoners appellate lawyers. The backlash about to be unleashed in Washington is the last gasp of old, frightened straight billionaires in their seventies, determined to cement their masters of the universe memories of the 1950s in place. To read this book is to be reminded-- or, for the younger, schooled- in what we fight for.

HBB price: $40.

Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like.

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