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Hotel de Dream: A New York Novelby Edmund White
Edmund White is one of American literature's best kept secrets, and Hotel de Dream is his finest novel in nearly a decade. Give this one a chance; I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. If you've never read any of White's novels, this is a fantastic place to start. If you have read White's work before, this one just might rekindle your interest in him.
Synopses & Reviews
In a damp, old sussex castle, American literary phenomenon Stephen Crane lies on his deathbed, wasting away from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight. The world-famous author of The Red Badge of Courage has retreated to England with his wife, Cora, in part to avoid gossip about her ignominious past as the proprietress of a Florida bordello, the Hotel de Dream.
Though Crane's days are numbered, he and Cora live riotously, running up bills they'll never be able to pay, receiving visitors like Henry James and Joseph Conrad, and even planning a mad dash to Germany's Black Forest, where Cora hopes a leading TB specialist will provide a miracle cure.
Then, in the midst of the confusion and gathering tragedy of their lives, Crane begins dictating a strange novel. The Painted Boy draws from Crane's erstwhile journalist days in New York in the 1890s, a poignant story about a boy prostitute and the married man who ruins his own life to win the boy's love. Crane originally planned the book as a companion piece to Maggie, Girl of the Streets, but abandoned it when literary friends convinced him that such scandalous subject matter would destroy his career. Now, with his last breath, Crane devotes himself to refashioning this powerful novel, into which he pours his fascination with the underworld, his sympathy for the poor, his experiences as a reporter among New York's lowlife — and his complex feelings for his own devoted wife.
Seamlessly flowing between the vibrant, seedy atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Manhattan and the quiet Sussex countryside, Hotel de Dream tenderly presents the double love stories of Cora and Crane, and the painted boy and his banker lover. The brilliant novel-within-a-novel combines the youthful simplicity of Crane's own prose with White's elegant sense of form, offering an unforgettable portrait of passion in all its guises.
"'A biographical fantasia, White's latest imagines the final days of the poet and novelist Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage), who died of TB at age 28 in 1900. At the same time, White also imagines and writes The Painted Boy, a work that he has Crane say he began in 1895, but burned after warnings from a friend. Crane dictates a fresh start on the story to his common-law wife, Cora Stewart-Taylor. Interspersed within White's impressionistic account of Crane's life, The Painted Boy tells the tale of Elliott, a 'ganymede butt-boy buggaree.' Once a farm boy used by his widowed father and elder brothers like a girl, Elliott escapes to New York and begins a new life as a street hustler. Crane, dying overseas, asks that 'someone skilled and open minded' complete the novella. The wry Cora, in her earlier career as a madam at the Jacksonville, Fla. 'Hotel de Dream,' has some ideas of who among Crane's friends fits the bill. Though White's research and marshaling of slang are impressive, The Painted Boy approaches the sexual frankness of porn and reads improbably. But as White's book(s) build up steam, readers will let go of misgivings, caught up in Elliott's tragic love life and Crane's apocalyptic end. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Is it a sign of the decadence of literary culture that so many novels have been taking as their subjects the lives and quandaries of past novelists? Probably not, though recently we have had Virginia Woolf, Henry James (at least twice) and Arthur Conan Doyle among the more respectfully fictionalized, and Edgar Allan Poe and Kafka more loosely; the list could be extended. James makes a memorable appearance... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) as comic relief and villain in Edmund White's new novel, 'Hotel de Dream,' which tells of the last days in the life of Stephen Crane, who now joins the ranks of the novelized novelists. White, author of 'A Boy's Own Story' and several novels of gay life, takes the dead-author fantasia a further step by offering us within the pages of his novel almost an entire new novella by Crane. Crane's greatest fame as an author came just at the end of his short life — he died of tuberculosis in 1900 at the age of 28. His most successful work of fiction, a best-seller in the United States and widely acclaimed in Britain, was 'The Red Badge of Courage,' which, though written by a very young man who had not served in the Civil War, struck many readers as more authentic than any other account. Earlier, however, he'd made a name as a controversialist, journalist and flaneur in New York, outraging sensibilities with his articles on dance-hall girls and prostitutes. His first short novel, 'Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,' was a realistic (if melodramatic) account of a 'fallen' young woman. It's Crane's interest in New York street life and its sexuality that has engaged Edmund White. Taking off from a brief account of Crane's apparent friendship with a young male prostitute, White imagines Crane in his last months, tended by the former madam who called herself Cora Crane — she wasn't his wife, but she was his constant companion and loyal to the end — to whom Crane dictates a short novel called 'A Painted Boy.' White's novel is built around this manuscript and Crane's struggle to complete it; Crane's memories of New York, of Cuba during the conflict with Spain when he was a war correspondent, and of Florida, where he met Cora; and Cora's concerns with her Stevie, dying in England. 'The Painted Boy' would have been unpublishable in its time. White calls the boy whom Crane may have briefly known Elliott, and he has that name in Crane's story, too: a newsboy, prostitute, syphilitic, with bad teeth and ruined health, but still attractive. Crane sets his tale in the underworld to which Elliott introduced him — the transvestites, pickpockets, male prostitutes, kept boys and 'flame-fairies' or boys who wear makeup but male clothing. Crane delighted in it all, and the fiction he (or rather White) makes of it holds nothing back, not the graphic lingo of the transvestites nor the details of Elliott's infection. What shocked late-19th-century readers of Crane's novel about Maggie was not only its frankness about the sex trade but also its brutal hopelessness — this was 'naturalism' in the Emile Zola mode, distilled into simple, almost cinematic prose. What would have made 'The Painted Boy' shocking, if it had been published (or if it could actually have been written by Crane, which is a different question), is that it is a love story. The love is the compulsive, all-destroying passion of Theodore Koch, respectable married banker, for a beautiful spoiled boy. Cora, taking down the novel that Crane dictates, wants to know if he's basing his story on real people: 'Oh, botheration, Stephen thought, this is where she's revealing that she's a woman after all, the personal slant. ... For women pure fiction doesn't exist; they can't believe in it.' Does White, a famed memoirist as well as a novelist, have a 'personal slant'? White not only goes inside Crane's consciousness, he causes Crane to speak at times as though he were writing his own biography, referring to himself alternately as 'he' and 'I.' The tale that Stephen dictates to Cora is entirely in the Crane mode, a brilliant pastiche of a writer dying yet not full-grown, but there's something anachronistic about it. It is certainly possible for a straight writer today, with a century of gay writing to inspire and instruct him, to construct a gay love story with the emotional and physical detail of this one, but I don't believe that a straight writer of Crane's time — not even Crane — could have had the resources to imagine and re-create Theodore Koch's intimacies with Elliott in this way. So, is it pure fiction, even though based on more than one real life? Perhaps it is, in a certain sense. 'Hotel de Dream' was the name of the brothel that Cora managed long before in Florida, and thus it seems to make an odd title for a New York tale told by an author dying in Europe. But the title can be understood in another sense: This hotel of dreams is not the one in history; it's within Edmund White, a heartbreak hotel where, in a dreamlike fugue of styles, gay life past and present commingle in the streets of a lost New York made of a thousand details still vivid in the imagination of a novelist — not Crane, but White himself." Reviewed by John Crowley, the author of 'Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"White deals elegantly with themes of literary influence, indebtedness and impersonation....Intoxicatingly hedonistic and fearsomely bleak." New York Times
"[A] compelling, bracing portrait of an artist so committed to life that he obsessively strives to understand and to capture the unknown, thereby enlarging his circle of empathy, even in the face of death." San Diego Union-Tribune
"A minor effort, but a nice tribute to some of the author's literary progenitors." Kirkus Reviews
If Hotel de Dream...sends its reader back to Crane's original works, a great American undervalued writer will be newly honored." Oregonian
About the Author
Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and, most recently, his memoir, My Lives. Having lived in Paris for many years, he is now a New Yorker and teaches at Princeton University.
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