Chaos by Edmund White
‘Chaos’ opens with a novella so-named which is intriguing for giving an indication of the birth of ‘Jack Holmes and his Friend’ – even the name. I take it as the musings of an older man (I am a year older than White) who has led an interesting life but (post plague years) is now having to deal with the final stages of his personal development as he considers his life, lovers and identity. It is a tension between self-disgust and self-affirmation. There is plenty that can be seen as dark and disillusioned and beautifully written and much that is sharply insightful and downright funny.
‘There never was any news about his books from Europe, good or bad, and usually Jack stayed awake another hour or two sending messages to young guys who wanted their cocks sucked. Some of them were other old men who couldn’t sleep. A few were men in their thirties or forties who wanted a quickie on their way to work and if they did drop by the tension to get to their office on time made them come too quickly. But most of the men who were still up were crystal meth addicts looking for more drugs and someone sober enough (or on enough Viagra) to function as they all tunnelled further and deeper into the heart-pounding dawn, unmemorable and exciting.’
‘Jack had had sciatica once when he’d laid flat on the bed and a hefty man had sat on his dick and Jack had made little plunges up into all this wet, soft heaviness – for the next week he’d scarcely been able to walk, so painful was his lower back.’
There is much here that can be found in more detail in ‘Inside A Pearl’ which examines his Paris years and in his continuing autobiographical trilogy. This novella can be read as an inner distillation, a factional examination of his life at the time of writing with more continuing to come.
There are another five stories of varying length ranging from the competent and interesting ‘The Creative Writing Murders’ and ‘Give it up for Billy’ to the outstanding in ‘Record Time’ a charming evocation of the growing consciousness of a thirteen-year old and ‘A Good Sport’ a tale of wonderful colour in place and relationships set beside the Sea of Marmara.
Throughout there are wonderful passages of writerly skill that leave the reader with a sensation of delicious satiety yet always wanting more.