Background Reading for My Novel: “A Boy’s Own Story” by Edmund White

A Boy's Own Story

First published in 1982 and considered by many to be one of the finest works with a gay coming-of-age theme, Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story is a nonlinear narrative of a young boy growing up in post-World War II middle America and the struggles he has coming to terms with his homosexuality, an all too common occurrence for those of us from that generation or earlier. This is a pretty cheerless story and one that will make most readers feel uncomfortable, despondent or both when they read it. While not an autobiography the novel reflects White’s real-life experiences: a troubled relationship with both of his parents, their divorce when he was quite young, incestuous feelings for his father, and more. As I read the novel I kept thinking of it as a memoir and now find myself pondering where the line is between fact and fiction in this work.

I first started reading this book several months ago but lost interest and set it aside with the intention of giving it another try at a later time. This time I did finish it and must confess that I am somewhat torn in my feelings regarding this book. On the one hand the author’s writing style is nothing less than brilliant. He has an incredible mastery of the English language and many of the passages are quite vivid and beautifully written. His ability to paint a picture with words is profound. Oh to be able to write so well. However I found the story itself to be somewhat dry and dull. It was difficult to read more than about 30 pages at one sitting simply because the pace of the book was so painfully slow. And while I valued the author’s ability to create wonderful images with his words I felt he did so to excess, so much so that at times I found myself thinking “Enough! Let’s dispense with this and move the story line forward.”

I guess a good way to sum up my feelings was that I appreciated the novel and the author’s ability to describe scenes and characters so well, but I can’t say I actually enjoyed reading it. I am glad to have read this but would hesitate to attempt anything else by the author for fear that I would find it tedious.

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