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  • Written by Edmund White
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  • Written by Edmund White
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A Novel

Written by Edmund WhiteAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Edmund White


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: September 08, 2010
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-76448-5
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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In Edmund White's most moving novel yet, an American living in Paris finds his life transformed by an unexpected love affair.

Austin Smith is pushing fifty, loveless and drifting, until one day he meets Julien, a much younger, married Frenchman. In the beginning, the lovers' only impediments are the comic clashes of culture, age, and temperament. Before long, however, the past begins to catch up with them. In a desperate quest to save health and happiness, they move from Venice to Key West, from Montreal in the snow to Providence in the rain. But it is amid the bleak, baking sands of the Sahara that their love is pushed to its ultimate crisis.


Chapter One
Austin was twenty years older than everyone else in the gym--and the only American. It was a place for serious people who wanted a quick workout--pairs of students from the nearby branch of the Paris university system or solitary young businessmen who trudged about with Walkmen plugged into their ears making a dim, annoying racket. Not very many Frenchmen wanted to build huge muscles, at least not very many straight guys.
This was by no means a gay gym. It was just a small workout room that looked down through smudged glass panes onto a public pool below. The pool was Olympic size and even through the glass still reeked of hot chlorine. It had been built in the Belle Epoque and recently restored. Austin thought there might be more action in the pool and the shower rooms, but he didn't like swimming and he'd sort of given up on cruising. He wasn't young enough and what he had to offer--his accent, his charming if broken-down apartment, his interesting profession, his kindness--wasn't visible in a shower room.
For some time Austin had been looking occasionally at a particular newcomer. They had already exchanged two smiles and many glances, brilliant little flashes of curiosity in this unfriendly place where looks never lingered and even those guys who stood watch over someone lifting dangerously heavy weights never used the occasion as an excuse for striking up a conversation.
Now the younger man was struggling under a bar loaded with too much weight, nor had he secured the metal plates--he was about to let the whole thing go crashing to the floor. Austin came rushing up behind him, lifted the bar and put it safely back on the stand at the head of the board where the stranger was lying on his back. None of the other men seemed to have registered the near crisis; Austin could hear the Walkman of the guy next to them jittering away like cicadas in a tin can.
"Thank you!" the young man exclaimed in French as he stood up. He spoke in a deep, resonant voice, the sort of "voice from the balls" that so many Latin men cultivate. He scrutinized Austin intensely. Austin was highly flattered by the attention. He'd long admitted to himself that he was the sort of man who needed constant transfusions of interest and affection. If his phone didn't ring for a day or if he didn't have a dinner date lined up he was suicidal by dusk. If his date yawned he was ready to bolt from the restaurant or do a tap dance on the table. Now here was this young man who, if he wasn't exactly Austin's type, had become so by taking an interest in him.
"I could see that you were, perhaps, unfamiliar--"
"It's all completely new to me," the young man exclaimed. Austin noticed that his white shorts were cut high, which only emphasized the power of his legs, not in a sexual but rather in a boyish way. "Are you English?" he asked.
Austin had come to count on French people commenting on his accent. It not only provided them with a safe topic but he knew everyone under forty in France wanted to live somewhere in the English-speaking world, at least for a year or two.
"American." He anticipated the next question and said, "New York." Then the next and added, "Although I've been here eight years." Finally, he offered, "As you can hear, it's difficult to learn another language after forty." He wasn't fishing, he just wanted to lay to rest right away the question of his age. "Is this your first time here?" Austin asked.
"Yes. My wife comes here to swim. She's down there somewhere."
He waved toward the pool with a vague hand, although his glance remained fixed on Austin.
The young man asked Austin to show him how to do the exercise properly, but, though observing the demonstration politely, he scarcely took it seriously, as his bright eyes and slight smile suggested. He seemed too alive to the moment to pay any attention to it.

When asked, Austin said that he was a "cultural journalist" who was writing a book on French furniture of the eighteenth century.
The Frenchman happened to be in the small locker room dressing to leave at the same time as Austin. He turned modestly away when he pulled on his bikini underpants and revealed nothing but the expected hairy buttocks, full, even luscious. Austin was ordinarily alert to even the grubbiest sexual possibility. That's what he was always on the lookout for, but today he'd already picked up a hint of romance, as though this guy could be courted but not groped. They kept up their banter which, if overheard, would have sounded forced, schoolboyish, but it was melded and, somewhat, liquefied by the flow of their exchanged smiles, glances, nods.
When they were on the street the Frenchman said he had to rush back to work. He was an architect on the other side of Paris.
"I'd love to see you again," Austin said, knowing he had nothing to lose except his dignity, which he didn't care much about.
"Me, too."
"Here's my number."
"Oh, you Americans are always so well organized with your calling cards. If you give me another, I'll write my number on it for you."
"Your home number?" Austin asked, pressing his advantage.
"My work number," the man said with a big smile.
Austin was surprised by the slight stiffening of his own penis. For weeks he'd been nearly impotent even in expert arms, and here he was, excited by a stranger's mere presence and the hint of a date. He liked that they were both dressed in coats and ties on a strangely warm day early in April at the wrong end of the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
"Hey, what's your name anyway?"
"Really?" Austin said. "That's the name of the guy who just dropped me."
Julien smiled, Austin guessed, not at his misfortune but at the explicitness of his remark. Sometimes it's okay to be American, Austin thought; we have a reputation for being brazen we must live up to.

Edmund White|Author Q&A

About Edmund White

Edmund White - The Married Man
Edmund White lives in New York City.

Author Q&A

A: Conversation with Edmund White, author of THE MARRIED MAN
Q: You have long been considered one of our finest fiction writers as well as our pre-eminent American gay novelist. Has becoming a cultural icon in the literary world changed things for you in any way -- perhaps informing the topics you choose to write about?

Well, thanks for the compliments first of all. I love writing about gay life because it still feels so uncharted. Every time a writer tackles a new subject, there's an energy bristling off the page. But of course I also like to tackle other subjects -- and my very next novel will be a historical novel, a portrait of a 19th-century female radical.

Q: The Married Man is a departure from your previous fiction (especially the trilogy A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room Is Empty and The Farewell Symphony) in that, you've shifted from first to the third person. What was the significance of this shift?

I wanted to underline the difference between The Married Man and the trilogy, and one way to do it was to shift from the first-person to the third. I greatly enjoyed creating a portrait loosely based on myself -- with all my foibles, some of them even exaggerated for comic effect. The relationship with the reader is different when you write about yourself in the third-person. Whereas everything you say in the first-person is regarded as a sort of confession or self-justification, an apologia pro vita sua, once you switch to the third-person no reader imagines you're attempting to justify the character's behavior. The reader accepts the portrait as something objective -- which is a great relief. In fact, I look at myself as a comic character in someone else's book -- and the third-person approximates that experience.

Q: While the story locale shifts from France and Venice to Providence, Key West, and even Morocco, it primarily takes place in Paris, where the main character lives and where you actually lived for 16 years. What is it about Paris that fascinates you in life and in fiction?

Initially I just went to Paris for a year, and on arrival I met an expatriate woman who told me, "I, too, thought I'd stay just a year -- and now it's twenty." I'd gone when I was 43 and at that time in one's life one can either settle in and keep doing the same things, or one can change everything radically. I loved giving up teaching and becoming a student, learning a new language (though it was often frustrating), reading a whole new contemporary literature -- and especially discovering values and attitudes that challenged American views. I like Henry James' "international theme," which still strikes me as fertile material. Now I don't feel either all-American or all-French -- and that outsider status is useful to a novelist, especially a novelist of manners.

Q: Now that you live in the States again, are there things about life in France that you miss? Conversely, have you gained any newfound appreciations for American culture?

I never disliked America nor left it for political reasons or as a protest of any sort. I did gain an appreciation of France and the French (who are the most loyal friends and in fact practice a cult of friendship). I'm appalled by the routine anti-French sentiments expressed in America, especially stories of Parisian rudeness which are just part of urban folklore, impervious to experience. It's a form of racism, really. I miss French food, the rapidity and lightness of French conversation, French discretion, the rigor of French intellectual style, the shrugging French sophistication about sexual peccadilloes.

Q: Early in your new novel, the main character, Austin, throws a dinner party for all his young French friends, who are mostly gay men and straight women. Do you see these two groups as a happy alliance of sensibility?

Both groups are focused on men, so there's a natural point of alliance, and both know what it's like to be second-rate citizens. And both are well-versed in the arts of seduction. Both have been sex objects (if they're lucky) and fear the end of personal attractiveness. Both have had to come up against that big immovable object, the male ego.

Q: While The Married Man is an often funny love story between an older American and a younger Frenchman, it's also quite heart-wrenchingly sad when AIDS enters the picture. You've seen many friends and lovers die and you've lived with an HIV-positive status for 15 years. Was it difficult for you to write about this?

I had no choice. I lived through such painful experiences with my real French lover who, like the character in my book, died in Morocco. I was so haunted by those memories -- and simultaneously so afraid of forgetting a single detail through the natural amnesia of grief and time -- that I felt driven to get it all down. But yes, it was painful -- far more painful than cathartic.

Q: Do you think of other gay men as the primary audience for your book?

Not at all. AIDS is something that has affected virtually everyone, and the conclusion of the book, I hope, is a realistic, unsentimental look at how people live through -- and sometimes die from -- the disease.

More important, I decided to downplay the explicit sexuality of my earlier books in order to open this one up to the general reader. Many of the characters are themselves heterosexual; the basic situations are easy for anyone to identify with; and there's a lot of humor and irony and cross-cultural satire designed to appeal to any educated reader.

Q: In the novel, Julien is married but separated -- bisexual, but ardent in his devotion to Austin. And yet the conflict of interest doesn't appear to bother Austin as much as he finds it mysteriously intriguing. Why?

Maybe that French discretion and sexual sophistication I mentioned earlier rubbed off on my expatriate, Austin. I think that older gay men are rejected by the ordinary gay community, if not as friends at least as partners, so older men (like Austin, or me) learn to look for love in strange places and not demand that things be ideal.

Q: Even though you see homosexuality as a way of challenging convention, the feel of The Married Man is one of traditional storytelling. How do you resolve this apparent contradiction?

In The Farewell Symphony I think I blurred the line between autobiography and novel and rejected the tight-knit plot in order to convey in a modern picaresque the centifugal nature of gay life. In that book, in other words, I rejected novelistic conventions, so suited to heterosexual life, in favor of a bigger, more open and inclusive form, more appropriate to the anthological side of urban gay experience in the 1970s, the main period of action.

But in The Married Man, starting with the title, I've tried to write a novel not of cruising and tricking but about a single relationship. I no longer turned to an open form but to a closed one that observes the unities of character and situation if not of place or time. I thought the most dramatic way to present my subject would be within the confines of the traditional novel. To be sure, there are games in the book -- especially the way the light, anecdotal tone of the beginning in no way prepares the reader for the tragedy to come. These are games involving the contract with the reader rather than the form of the fiction.

Q: Generally speaking, what do you think of gay marriages?

I'm all for the fight for equality in marriage because the sanctity of marriage (as a religious rite but also as an economic and legal institution) is the last bastion of heterosexual privilege.

Gays will never be equal until they are equal under the law. In addition, marriage enables gays to leave their property to their partners, to share health benefits, to adopt as a couple -- all important concerns, especially in a world in which many men died young, because of AIDS. I've seen gay guys thrown out of their homes after the death of a partner; they were disenfranchised by the family of the deceased, who often combine homophobia with basic greed. I've seen gay men who've adopted a child as a single parent -- then died and not been able to transfer the custody to their surviving partner.

Having said all that, I myself would never want to marry. I think gays should reinvent social institutions, not imitate the existing, faulty ones -- but that's another long story.



"The most beautifully written of White's novels.... [A] deeply moving story of human love and loss."?Atlanta Journal?Constitution

?Deeply moving...White rings new changes on the old themes of mortality and forgiveness.??The New York Times Book Review

"A potent mix of tragedy, romance, and cultural comedy.... The Married Man underscores White's reputation as a supremely gifted stylist."?The Boston Phoenix

  • The Married Man by Edmund White
  • September 11, 2001
  • Fiction - Gay
  • Vintage
  • $16.95
  • 9780679781448

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