Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Whose 100 Best?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Whose 100 Best?

Article excerpt

The Publishing Triangle recently joined the "100 best" craze that's been sweeping the American literary scene by asking 14 queer literary figures to vote on a list of the best gay and lesbian novels of all time. The list came out in June and immediately got everybody I know hopping mad. Which is OK The main reason for creating these lists is that they provoke discussion (and then send the discussants back to the books or, let's be honest, get them to read them for the first time). Anyway, the Triangle's list was a nice try but, as they say, deeply flawed.

Let's start with the list's number 1: Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is not a novel Put a snort story or, at most, a novella. Besides, the tale of the closeted artist in Venice who falls for a beautiful youth he never gets up the courage to approach (and then dies of cholera because he eats an unwashed strawberry) strikes me as a little hokey to qualify as the best that flit-lit has so far produced.

Now for the rest: Though a great book, Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is memoir, not fiction, nor is Stein's Three Lives a novel. Nabokov wasn't queer, nor does Pale Fire have any queer characters. Same goes for Balzac and Lost Illusions (though there are queer characters in three of his other novels). Henry James was queer at least by temperament, but The Turn of the Screw is only a novella and not gay; and The Bostonians is antilesbian and unsatisfactory. James comes closest to a successful queer novel with Roderick Hudson. Willa Cather was almost certainly lesbian, but Death Comes for the Archbishop isn't queer, nor is it her best novel. I don't see anything queer in To Kill a Mockingbird; I've known many "tomboys" who were straight.

If it's sufficient for the author to be gay even if the novel isn't, where is Walter Pater? E.F. Benson? Raymond Radiguet? Paul Bowles? Darryl Pinckney? Samuel R. Delany? If queer characters are all that's required, why not Theophile Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin? Colette's Le Pur et l'impur or La Retraite sentimentale? Mary McCarthy's The Group? Pat Barker's First World War trilogy?

Maybe it was inevitable, since all the judges were American, but the list does seem weighted in favor of Uncle Sam. …

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