The Beautiful Room Is Empty (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
The Beautiful Room Is Empty is an autobiographical novel about growing up gay in America. It was preceded, in 1982, by Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story—a prequel featuring the same narrator—and it is clear from the author’s own comments and from the conclusion of The Beautiful Room Is Empty that this story of a cultural evolution is not finished. The Beautiful Room Is Empty, which covers the 1960’s, the great era of sexual liberation for American society at large, could easily have been a joyous narrative. Instead, it is a halting, doubting story of self-discovery that seems haunted by the specter of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which would later come to change the gay world irrevocably.
AIDS does not make an appearance in the novel—mention of the disease would be anachronistic. The novel is often characterized by a somber mood, however, which its very title introduces. White opens his book with an epigraph from Anatole France that equates the state of being human with sensual awareness. There is another epigraph, however, the one from which the book’s title is taken, that comes from a letter Franz Kafka wrote to Milena Jesenska. This second epigraph is far more equivocal, filled with a sense of the impossibility of acceptance, integration, or love:Sometimes I have the feeling that we’re in one room with two opposite doors and each of us holds the handle of one door, one of us flicks an...
(The entire section is 1643 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Booklist. LXIV, March 1, 1988, p. 1096.
Kirkus Reviews. LVI, January 15, 1988, p. 86.
Library Journal. CXIII, March 1, 1988, p. 79.
London Review of Books. X, March 3, 1988, p. 11.
The Nation. CCXLVI, April 9, 1988, p. 503.
New Statesman. CXV, January 29, 1988, p. 29.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, March 20, 1988, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, January 22, 1988, p. 102.
Time. CXXXI, April 11, 1988, p. 74.
The Times Literary Supplement. January 22, 1988, p. 82.
(The entire section is 55 words.)