Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance first published in 1978 is a story of the post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS era of the gay NYC scene. Considered by many an important part of gay literature, the novel is told in the third person and is centered around the lives of two characters. Malone is a strikingly handsome young man from the Midwest who abandons the practice of law and his heterosexual façade initially to pursue his dream of perfect m/m romantic love, eventually submerging himself in the decadent world of sexual promiscuity and drugs. Sutherland, Malone’s mentor, is an older man and the quintessential bitchy, campy, drag queen. Much of the story takes place in Manhattan’s discos and Everard Baths and Fire Island’s world of unrestrained orgies.
The novel is well written but I must confess that by the time I finished reading it I felt as empty as the individuals who populate the story. I came out as a gay man in the same era as Malone’s character and indulged in much of the same hedonistic behavior that both he and the other people in the story so gloriously pursue. Consequently it’s not as though I disapprove or do not have an appreciation of the thrill that time and era had for our generation. I simply felt both while I was reading the book and upon completion that I really did not care about the fate of the protagonists. Because Sutherland’s character is so campy the sections of the book dealing with him were at least mildly amusing. Since Malone is described as being a hopeless romantic at least in the early parts of the novel, I found it ironic that he struck me as cold and not very interesting.
Dancer from the Dance has been described by many as being a gay Great Gatsby. I’m ashamed to admit that I have never read Fitzgerald’s masterpiece so I obviously cannot comment on such comparisons. I fully intend to correct my reading oversight at some point in the future and maybe then a re-reading of Holleran’s book will leave me more satisfied. Despite my lukewarm feelings I am glad that I have read the book even though of all the books I have read since I started writing my own novel, I found this the least enjoyable.