In most of the men in a gay bar there is a greater responsiveness than is usual in the world outside, and though most of them make it a piece of strategy to restrain their response, and though the elements composing it are more often subtle than not—a shift of weight, an extra blink of the eyes, an effort not to look at something that naturally draws attention—its presence is palpable; the room vibrates with it.
A few months ago I read Necessary Errors, Caleb Crain’s wonderful debut novel about a young American in 1990s Prague. It’s breathtaking, unpretentious, and, I think, important. Crain’s work reminds me an awful lot of Henry James’, and his novel is just the kind of novel I’d like to be able to someday write. Since then I have been reading a collection of short stories called The Other Persuasion, a collection edited by Seymour Kleinberg, featuring, among many others, Marcel Proust, William Faulkner, E.M. Forster, Gore Vidal, Gertrude Stein, and D.H. Lawrence. (The Proust and Vidal stand out.) On these two books I’ve been taking more notes than usual—thank you, Evernote! And even though I know it seems that way I don’t make it a point to read gay fiction, only that it’s the kind of thing I find most interesting at the moment.
Why? My friend R has a theory. “Like women, gay men have to pay attention to the world around them in order to avoid harm,” he wrote to me. “This makes their writing better. But heightened attentiveness is all I would allow to characterize ‘gay fiction.’ Who knows what gay writers will do when there is little or no reason to conceal being gay?”