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Queer Street

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Queer Street may not, as the author insists, have a definite location—it existed on the borders of myth, visible wherever gay men congregated and made a world for themselves at the intersections of Attitude, Camp, Jewelry, and Opera; but what Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947- 1985 does have is a definite voice. Everywhere one hears the unmistakably rococo cadences of James McCourt. But though that is never less than true, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, at least formally, this is a book of many voices, a wildly accomplished act of ventriloquism. It is a bravura performance even for McCourt, whom critics over the years have both celebrated and censured for his stylistic extravagance. In keeping with that reputation for verbal excess, what he delivers here is certainly not a straight social history, but rather an enormous sprawling compendium, a cornucopia overflowing with conversations and commentaries, lists and lectures, theories and fantasies, queer sights and queer sites—all of which recreates nearly forty years of an urban gay experience that McCourt laments is no longer available. It is the queer culture of his youth and early adulthood, the milieu that shaped his sensibility, initiated him into its rituals, and died of assimilation and AIDS.

So this is both a life story, “the odyssey of a temperament” (gay man comes of age in pre-Stonewall New York) and a “grand tour d’horizen of queer life in America since World War II.” But from moment to moment within that overarching chronology, the past and present slide together and apart as panels in a screen, incidents appearing, seldom in sequence, as they are called up by others in the mind. It is a narrative that, no matter how frequently it risks incomprehensibility with its fragmented vocal collage, never fails to amuse and enlighten, provoke and seduce. It is a memoir of someone thinking out loud, setting scenes and settling scores (the wit is...

(The entire section is 494 words.)