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Harper's Magazine
Friday, February 12th, 2010
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City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s

by Edmund White

City Boy

A review by Benjamin Moser

Edmund White's City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and 70s (Bloomsbury, $26) is a book so witty, so insightful, so bristling with gossip, that one almost fails to notice that it is an essential chronicle of a revolution in many ways no less important than the fall of Communism: the gay liberation movement, in which White was both an actor and a privileged spectator, from the time he arrived in New York after college, when "there was no 'gay pride' ...there was only gay fear and gay isolation and gay distrust and gay self-hatred."

White's account of New York's artistic milieu at a time when the city was an abandoned and dangerous grab bag of vagabonds and aristocrats ("As Stan used to say, 'Half the people in New York if they were anywhere else would be either interviewed or arrested'") sparkles with the anecdotes that make his novels so vivid and with the incredible range of famous people he has known. But his early doubts and obscurity, along with his years-long struggle to write and be published, remain too present in these pages ever to allow him to come across as a snob.

In one of his many discourses on friends famous -- Jasper Johns, Peggy Guggenheim, James Merrill -- and otherwise, White described a now-forgotten novelist's book as lacking "that key, embarrassing literary quality no one knows how to discuss: charm." City Boy is full of it, even when discussing weighty topics.

Benjamin Moser is a contributing editor of Harper's magazine and the author of Why This World.

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