A Place I’ve Never Been (Magill Book Reviews)
The title piece of David Leavitt’s new group of short stories centers on two characters introduced in his earlier collection, FAMILY DANCING—Nathan, a young homosexual, and Celia, his female friend. However, whereas in the earlier story, Celia was overweight and withdrawn while Nathan was romantically “different,” now Celia is losing weight and trying to find her own life, while Nathan is gaining weight and living in constant fear of AIDS. By the end of the collection, in a story entitled “I See London, I See France,” Celia has finally pulled loose from the safety of her relationship with Nathan and is moving toward an acceptance of herself.
Leavitt adopts the persona of male and female equally well. In “My Marriage to Vengeance,” the narrator is a lesbian woman who attends the wedding of her former female lover with fantasies of revenge, but is consoled by her discovery that the lover knows she has chosen to take the easier, but not better, life. In “Ayor,” the narrator is a young gay man who has played it safe while urging a male homosexual friend to live the dangerous gay life for him, whereas in “Houses,” the voice is that of an older married man who, in a gay twist on the American Dream, fantasizes about living with his male lover in a quaint little cottage.
All of these stories deal with universal human themes of self-discovery, divided allegiances, and the search for acceptance. It’s just that in the world of David Leavitt, such universal needs and conflicts primarily derive from the biological fact of homosexuality and the social reality of the gay life-style.
Sources for Further Study
Bookust. LXXXVII, September 15, 1990, p.140.
Chicago Tribune. July 15, 1990, XIV, p.4.
Kirkus Reviews. LVIII, July 15, 1990, p.954.
Library Journal. CXV, August, 1990, p.143.
Los Angeles Times. September 21, 1990, p. E12.
The New York Times Book Review. XCV, August 26, 1990, p. 11.
Newsweek. CXVI, September 3, 1990, p.66.
Publishers Weekly CCXXXVII, July 13, 1990, p.40.
San Francisco Chronicle. September 23, 1990, p. El.
The Washington Post Book World. XX, October 7, 1990, p.7.
A Place I’ve Never Been (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
David Leavitt’s first collection of stories, Family Dancing (1984), published when he was twenty-three years old, consisted of nine stories that mostly dealt with the tensions that strain the delicate fabric of family relationships—sex, divorce, illness, death. A central tension was that of a young gay male trying to come to terms with his homosexuality or trying to find acceptance within his family. In A Place I’ve Never Been, Leavitt’s second collection, eight of the ten stories focus on conflicts arising out of the gay life-style. In this book, however, Leavitt’s homosexual characters, both male and female, have pushed beyond the problem of psychological self-acceptance or social acceptance by others; they now either confront the further implications of living with their sexual orientation or deal with homosexual versions of the problems that face the heterosexual mainstream.
The clearest indication of Leavitt’s shift from adolescent to more adult ramifications of the gay life can he seen in the title piece of the collection, which features two characters introduced in the story “Dedicated” in Family Dancing: Nathan, a young homosexual, and Celia, his female friend. In the early story, Celia was an ungainly and unattractive twenty-three- year-old in love with a young homosexual man named Andrew and good friends with Nathan, Andrew’s lover. In “Dedicated,” Celia envied the gay men and admired them for their romantic difference; she yearned to put aside her fleshiness and put on their sleekness. In the opening story of A Place I’ve Never Been, Celia has lost weight and is trying to find her female identity. Nathan, on the other hand, is putting on weight and suffering from a phobic anxiety about catching the AIDS virus after his former lover has been tested positive. The reunion of the two friends reveals how far both have developed and diverged since the period of the early story.
The character Celia is rejoined in the eighth story in the collection, “I See London, I See France.” She is in rural Italy with her new heterosexual lover, Seth, who has “saved” her from her dreary previous existence. The emphasis of the story is on Celia’s desire to be someone else, to deny her ordinary past and be like the wealthy and glamorous expatriate family she and Seth are visiting. Yet the romantic “difference” of the couple is similar to that which Celia perceived in her gay friends earlier in her life. By the end of the story, Celia recognizes this and understands the falseness and play-acting of her romance with Seth. She accepts her past, yet knows that she will become a different person from the one she formerly was. For Leavitt, the process of growing up means rejecting the facade of romance and accepting oneself for who one is.
A similar theme informs the story “Ayor.” The word is an acronym for “at your own risk,” used in The Spariacus Guide for Gay Men to designate bars and bathhouses where there are dangers. The protagonist is a young male homosexual, similar to the young men introduced in Leavitt’s first collection. When a long- time gay friend, Craig, is raped, the protagonist realizes that he has used Craig to live the many dangers of the gay life-style by proxy, experiencing those dangers only from the perimeter with Craig to protect him. As Craig sinks lower into degradation, the protagonist manages to remain aloof and untouched by the underworld of the gay man’s inevitable double life. At the conclusion of the story, the gay protagonist moves toward an understanding of his earlier fascination with the dangerous or “ayor” zones of life and develops a more mature acceptance of himself, as he returns to his regular and simple relationship with his lover Laurent.
As shown in Family Dancing and the two Celia stories in A Place I’ve Never Been, Leavitt is quite capable of assuming a female point of view. In “My Marriage to Vengeance,” Ellen, a homosexual woman, receives an invitation to her former lover’s heterosexual wedding and fantasizes going to the ceremony with a shotgun and shooting herself in front of the celebrants. Nothing quite so drastic occurs. It is not Ellen’s action or realization that constitutes the story’s denouement but rather the confession of her former lover, Diana, who admits that she is marrying because she wants a “normal” life instead of one as a “social freak.” The story ends with Ellen trying to deal with her grief at the loss of Diana, yet consoling herself with the knowledge that Diana will face a life of mistakes resulting from her one act of compromise, having preferred a life of easy mistakes to one that was harder but better.
Two of the stories that focus on homosexual...
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