Ever since The Gay Recluse's enchanting evisceration of Daniel Kehlmann's uber-bestselling historical novel Measuring the World, I've been enthralled with Matthew Gallaway's examinations of queer characters in literature. (With all that energy and enthusiasm and erudition, he should have his own tv show.) Yesterday he posted an essay on The Millions exploring a trio of novels in which a heretofore straight middle-aged man suddenly becomes infatuated with a young male: This month's The Art of Fielding [[Kindle]] by Chad Harbach, last year's By Nightfall [[Kindle]] by Michael Cunningham, and their great, great forefather Death in Venice [[Kindle]].
Matthew is too elegant to say it so bluntly, but apparently Harbach's gay nocturnes hit many false notes. He finds (with added emphasis):
"When Owen sits in the dugout, for example, his contours are “slender-limbed, right knee flipped girlishly over left” and when after Owen’s jaw is shattered, he still looks “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful… possessed of an Asian delicacy.” When the relationship becomes sexual, Owen kisses Affenlight “on the tip of the penis in a womanly way.” After they go to a hotel to (vaguely) “make love,” Affenlight “lay on his side…[in a] a quintessentially feminine posture…[as] with his free hand he caressed Owen’s belly, which itself felt almost feminine, not muscled but soft…”
If encoding man on man sex in female terms wasn't enough of a game-ender, Matthew later explains, "There’s an undercurrent of cognitive dissonance in the many scenes in which Affenlight appears," and "Harbach also adorns Owen with an array of pointless clichés that long ago felt more tired than funny in television sit-coms."
His close readings of Mann and Cunningham are just as essential, and more appreciative. I don't quote them because you are far more familiar with those works, and because you must read the entire essay yourself.
[Please enjoy: By Nightfall jacket designer Henry Sene Yee writes on his blog of this rejected version: "Although it connected with the storyline, we didn't want to suggest that this was a gay novel."]