GREAT PLEASURES by EDWARD SOUTHGATE
Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
Chapters in the life of a publisher and writer in New York, mostly erotic and mostly about late night hook-ups and adventures.
Did you finish it? Did it work for you?
It’s an episodic book of encounters, detailed wryly by a dispassionate, self-deprecating voice. There’s a muscularity to the prose, and also an unflinching eye for detail, and we get the low-down on every single encounter. It’s a kind of taxonomy of trysts – the boys who are richer, better looking, the boys who are drunker, more desperate, or more cool. Every age, ethnicity and degree of dodgy is explored here.
At first I thought the whole book was going to be sexy adventures, one after the next, but after about a third of the way in, the world of the narrator, Edward, starts to open out. We get glimpses of his day-to-day life, and his work, and his place in the world. More colour and life enters into the book, with the addition of his longer term friends and occasional lovers, and his trips to bars, galleries and a ridiculous holiday he takes to a gay resort. It becomes a more warmly inviting book as it goes along, and we are drawn into his world.
What genre would you say it is?
It’s erotic picaresque, to put it politely. Less politely and it’s hardcore smut. But… it effectively breaks its own genre, in a very witty way. Edward is such a self-deprecating and clever narrator, he can’t quite keep it up, in terms of maintaining that po-faced anality of the mucky-book protagonist. A prerequisite of that genre is lack of irony and just plain old showing off and self-valorization. Gay erotica is often a kind of adventure story, substituting fist fights and sword play for more intimate tussles.
Here, though, Edward stresses his own middle-aged dweebiness. There’s a pathos and a wit that makes the book into something more honest and moving than your average dirty fantasy novel. I love the fact that the most romantic moment in the book is an evening spent happily alone with a nice bottle of wine and a movie about penguins, and the most desperate search for the beloved is subordinated into a hunt for pumpkin ravioli (he settles for butternut squash.) It’s funny.
What surprises did it hold – if any?
Having said all that, there is still a fair amount of sexual exhibition going on - and the dexterity and skill involved is very impressive. It all felt exhausting.
What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
There’s a chapter about going to a gallery with a friend, and then a bar on top of a museum. Nothing much happens. Chat and reflection, and a few hours off from the relentless pursuit of men. Fervent hope and blind desire are laid aside for a few hours, and it’s a lovely holiday. A day off. It’s much more restful as a vacation than that other, chapter-long trip to the resort in Florida, which is memorable for its own reasons – to do with excess and desperation and the most challenging moment – in terms of bad taste – in the whole novel…
Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
It reminded me most of Edmund White, and first reading his early novels, or later memoirs such as ‘City Boy.’
What will you do with this copy now?
It’s a keeper. It’s on my Kindle – where, it turns out, everything is a keeper. One of those strange things about ebooks is that they are with you, wherever you go, so long as you keep a device that works. I’d like to read more by this writer / character, though. There are glimpses towards the end of the book of his trying to live a more integrated, less compartmentalized life – and there are surely developments to come. I hope there’ll be a follow-up.
Is it available today?
Yes – ebook and paperback are available via Amazon.
Give me a good quote:
“I must believe that the slutty deserve love, too.”