Magazine article Out

How Can a Straight Man Write So Well about Gay Sex?

Magazine article Out

How Can a Straight Man Write So Well about Gay Sex?

Article excerpt

ANDRÉ ACIMAN'S NEW NOVEL SHOWS THAT SOME STRAIGHT MEN UNDERSTAND THE JOYS-AND PAINS-OF BEING GAY.

Steely glares. Surreptitious dinnertime games of footsie. Long runs in the hills together. These are the ingredients of the extended mind game that is played one summer by Elio, an Italian 17-year-old, and Oliver, the American graduate student whom Elio's parents have taken in as a lodger in André Aciman's first novel, Call Me By Your Name.

The location is a seaside town in Italy, but the setting of the novel is really Elio's head, confirmation of the oft-repeat-ed truism that the brain is the most important human sexual organ. As the two lounge by the pool and converse about Monet and classical music, Elio senses his friendship with Oliver, who is seven years older, ricochet be-tween ambiguity, hostility, and attraction. The reader plunges headlong into Elio's thoughts, a zone where everything is nu-ance and no action is without meaning. Elio even devises a method of gauging Oliver's disposition by what color swim-ming trunks he has on (green is the best).

Which isn't to say that the trunks never come off. There is, in fact so much sex and so many horned-up fantasies that the au-thor says he astonished himself with what he had written.

"I never, ever in anything I've written used the word 'fuck' [before]," Aciman says. "People will be surprised to see some-body with my kind of very chaste pen-almost a chastened penwrite and use that kind of language."

The words are one surprise; who wrote them is another. Aciman is a respected professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Gradu-ate Center in Manhattan, best known as an author of essays on Proust and a memoir of his youth in Alexandria, Egypt. He's also a married rather of three. He says he has never had a gay relationship in his life.

Aciman showed the manuscript to his wife with some trepidation but quickly got her en-thusiastic approval. More worrisome was broaching the matter with his three teenage sons. There was the gay sex, of course, but even more problematic was an episode involving a peach, which might call to mind the infamous scene with an apple pie in the movie American Pie."The reaction was, 'A peach, Dad! I can't eat a peach for the rest of my life.'"

As with much of the book's contents, Aciman doesn't know the exact source of the fruit abuse. "Basically we all have this huge mine of things in our heads that we've never even fantasized about but that suddenly come up. The peach scene-where did this come from? I have no idea." Not exactly Proust's madeleine, in any case.

What he really wanted to do, Aciman says, was depict the pre-ciousness, and precariousness, of human intimacy, and defi-nitely not to pull the old train-through-a-tunnel trick when the clothes start to come off.

"I wanted to be in bed with them," Aciman says. "I wanted to focus on that. And I also didn't want the desire to come inadvertently to the character Oh, gee, I'm attracted to a man.'"

With Call Me By Your Name, Aciman joins the select compa-ny of a handful of straight novelists, such as Michael Chabon, who just happen to have found their muse channeling man-onman love. …

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