The Beauty of Men - Andrew Holleran

Ladymol's Review

Itís quite odd to be recommending a book that made me feel my life was utterly pointless and so bleak as to be not really worth bothering with. But I am going to recommend it. Writing this good should be read.

Lark is forty-eight. Heís been living in a small town near New York for twelve years caring for his crippled mother. He gave up his life in New York willingly, for to him, the city that he knew and loved was dead anyway: all his friends having succumbed to AIDS, which has for some bizarre reason left him alive. His mother is totally paralysed from the neck down and during the week lives in a home where he visits every day, her only solace. At weekends he brings her home.

His life revolves around the nursing home and the boat ramp: a parking place in the woods where men go to meet and have causal fleeting sex with other men in the toilets or their cars. Casul, except that Lark met someone there a year earlier for whom he is still carrying an enormous torch. He turns up on the anniversary of their one night together, desperately hoping he will meet Becket again.

As the story unfolds we discover that he lives quite near Becket and that he drives by his house at night, shops where he shops, goes to bars where Becket goes, but he never again makes that connection with him. We only see Becket through Larkís eyes and heís imbibed with the sense of being God-like: perfect, utterly desirable, but ultimately out of reach.

The story is a stream of thoughts and reminiscences about life and death and the meaning of both of these, and almost every line has that quality that makes you want to ring someone up and share it with them. Itís profound, moving writing, but, oh, itís so bleak! There is not one scrap of relief thrown to Lark in the whole book.

I wonder what impact this book would have on someone younger. Iím a little younger than Lark, but not much, and his concerns are my concerns: aging, becoming invisible in the world of the young, becoming a carer for someone I still want to be caring for me. I found the scenes with the mother equally as moving as the ones of Lark and his separate, gay life. Being a daughter, I found myself deeply moved by the way he describes the relationship of co-dependence between them. Moving and frightening.

This whole book should make you feel ďthere but for the grace of God, go IĒ and perhaps a younger reader might feel that quite happily. Iím not so sure I can shake off the impression that Lark is right in his nihilism.

So, a bleak, unrelenting read, but if you are interested in the craft of writing then I highly recommend you read this one.

Cerisaye's Review

I kept picking up this book then putting it down in despair and almost stopped reading altogether, irritated by constant whining page after page by Lark its main character.† In his late 40s, heís surviving- you canít call what he does living- in small town Florida, helping to look after his mother whoís in a nursing home.† Lark lived for many years in New York where life was a hedonistic whirl on the scene that ended abruptly with the twin tragedies of AIDS and his motherís accident that left her quadriplegic.

The story is set in 1995.† Lark is the only one left of his New York friends after the devastation AIDS wreaked on his generation, so he can be forgiven if survivorís guilt colours his outlook.†† For Lark is as emotionally paralysed as his mother by her physical handicap.† He keeps her alive as an outlet for his need to love and nurture, confirmation his empty life has purpose.† The irony is Larkís mother despite her inability to move has more spirit left in her than he does.†

Lark is very depressed.† A lover of male beauty, he hates what heís become and darenít look in a mirror.† He nurses an obsession with Becker, a younger man he met at the boat ramp, one of few places locally where men can meet for sex.† In between trips to see his mother Lark visits a gay bar and the baths, but rarely gets involved.† The beautiful young men he lusts after remind him of himself at their age so he thinks they donít want him.† Neither will he go with the older men to whom he is desirable, finding their wrinkled, saggy bodies ugly, like his own.†

Lark is ashamed of his desire but still driven by it.† He just doesnít give himself a chance.† I think he wants punishment, doesnít think he deserves happiness.† He has never told his mother heís gay, though she seems to have worked it out.

The novel inhabits an enclosed world thatís positively claustrophobic.† Lark has imaginary conversations with dead friends Sutcliffe and Eddy that offer humour and relief, but thereís little action in a novel taking place largely inside Larkís head.††

Itís an easy book to hate.† I moaned to LadyMoluk. Wanted to give Lark a shake and tell him to stop whinging, to be grateful for what he has instead of eternally mourning his losses.† Yet the beautiful simplicity and gut wrenching honesty of the writing kept me going, hoping there would be light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, something redemptive to make Larkís existence happier and the reading experience a little more positive if not joyful.† I normally avoid spoilers but I have to warn you it does not happen.†

Maybe itís because Iím around the same age as Lark, with similar worries about ageing- invisibility, general decrepitude, and so on.† Iíve never read a meditation on age and loneliness quite as affecting, yet intensely frustrating, as the drip by drip effect of this novel.† Itís a lament that reads like Holleran has poured heart and soul into it, in which case I feel profoundly sorry for him.†† A powerful book that somehow sneaked up on me and made me weep for poor sad Lark.† We all get older, but I think most manage the fallout better than Holleran allows his character here.† Still, the quality of writing leads me to try another of his books, once Iíve recovered my normally sunny disposition.

Published by: Plume Books ISBN: 0452277744 or Picador. ISBN: 0330352903


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