Thursday, October 06, 2005

When I called Fritz the other morning, he was already up and reading the copy of "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides I had lent him. He'd just finished the chapter on the horrific destruction of the city of Smyrna, slaughter of the Armenian population and expulsion of the Greeks by the Turks in 1922. As I had hoped, he was impressed by Eugenides as a writer, the kind of writer who can make even mundane activities, or the connective tissue in a novel from one big set piece to another, compelling. It took Eugenides nine years to write "Middlesex" but the payoff was the Pulitzer Prize. Amazingly, it's only his second novel.

I know the first one only from some comments made by the guys in the book group. It's called "The Virgin Suicides" and the premise sounds like some ritualistic Greek Tragedy--one by one, all the daughters in a family kill themselves. It certainly doesn't sound like light reading, but the description of "Middlesex" sounded pretty grim and it turned out to be a real page-turner. I've ordered a used copy from amazon.

Until it gets here I'm reading a short book, "Gentlemen Callers: Tennessee Williams, Homosexuality, and Mid-twentieth-century Drama" by Michael Paller. He has both professional and academic theater credits and currently teaches at both Columbia in New York City and the State University of New York at Purchase. Williams is--or should be--a sure-fire subject. He was completely out long before Stonewall and the beginnings of "gay lib." He wrote iconic plays that included both overt and covert gay leading characters. And he became controversial in both the straight and gay communities as the political landscape shifted, eventually becoming reviled by mainline theater critics and radical liberationists as either too gay, not gay enough--or irrelevant.

Paller's thesis is that Williams wasn't a self-loathing, morose and tragic figure, a tale that has often been told in biographies and critical studies. That sounds great but so far it's reading much less interestingly than it should. For one thing, having stated that Williams wasn't filled with self-loathing, he wraps up descriptions of a couple of the playwright's hook-ups with the comment that he was filed with loathing for what he'd done. Huh?

Since I hadn't read any Williams biography until now, I'm getting a lot out of the purely historical/biographical aspects of "Gentlemen Callers," but I wonder if the Williams who took two or three men home with him at different times in the same night and then suffered severe depressions would recognize the confident, unconflicted Williams Paller keeps assuring the reader was the real man.

I'm off to Fritz's tomorrow in the early afternoon. We're hosting a Body Electric School weekend, cooking for two dozen or more gay men. The team presenting the weekend are all good friends of ours. The weather is supposed to be dreadful but it shouldn't ruin anything for either the guys or us. Unfortunately the color is late in developing in the trees this year so our guests won't see New England in fall at its best.

I've posted shots and stories about several of opera's current or recent male stars, so I thought I'd spend a week or so introducing some of the women. I particularly like to debunk the myth that the average female singer is grossly overweight and unattractive. Sure, someome are, but they're in the minority these days.

Meet one of the hot new stars to come out of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, soprano Anna Netrebko. She's a hard worker who scrubbed the floors of the music conservatory in St. Petersberg where she studied to earn tuition money.

Her career in "the west" has been something of a triumphal march. I was at her Metropolitan Opera debut as Natasha in Prokofiev's "War and Peace" in which she enchanted the audience and sang gorgeously. She recently had a huge success in San Francisco as Juliet in Gounod's "Romeo et Juliet." Her first big solo CD became a best seller. Still in her early 30s and continuing to develop and improve, she would seem to have a very bright career ahead of her.

Tennessee Williams gay? I had no idea. Shame on me.
It sounds like a fascinating read. (Gentlemen Callers). Consider what it was like to be gay back then, and we think its difficult now to meet a decent man! :)
Hi, PG--I'm going to try to finish it this weekend and I'll report back as to how it reads as a whole. He comes off as a "correct" rather than an engrossing writer.
The Virgin Suicides was also a stunning flim, directed by Sofia Coppola.

I'll have to check out Middlesex.
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