Twentysix – Jonathan Kemp

26Nobody in our group (except one who didn’t attend the discussion, who said ‘think it’s quite imaginatively done, I’m not very good at working out this type of book ! a variety of sex acts, a variety of emotions and searching questions, perhaps he’s using the former to show the difficulty of explaining the latter….’) liked this book. One thought it was a curate’s egg of a book with some, especially the short, chapters poetic. But most found it ‘boring, boring, boring.’ There is some beautiful language but it deteriorates towards the end, as if he wanted to finish it quickly. How did he get away with it, we wondered? One member threw it across the room. Another said, ‘mildly titillating clichéd tosh’.

I didn’t find this book remotely erotic. However, the tale of the man in a sling, something that scares the pants off me, was lyrical. Also, the feeling of annihilation of all worries when cruising a dark room, intensely absorbed in the present moment, was true to experience. In an interview, the author spoke of ‘the spirituality of promiscuity’. He has a point.

There’s pretentiousness on p. 54 with the literary allusion ‘This is the way the world began….’

There’s something memorable about the phrase ‘dress to depress’

I am amused that there is a poppers salesman on hand at a cruising part but perturbed at cum being described as the release of white doves.

The loneliness that comes with ‘a promiscuous lifestyle’ is well portrayed.

There’s something very odd about the teenage boy who writes short stories about a serial killer who cuts off a finger of one of her fingers and uses it to masturbate.

Towards the end, we get an explanation of the ABC, as in ‘D for deeper’, which sent me scurrying back through the book trying to find a word beginning with the title letter for each encounter. P was for ‘piss’ I don’t know whether I succeeded of whether the suggestion was a red herring.

The author teaches creative writing, literature and queer theory. We’ve done other books by creative writing teachers than have also ‘bombed’. Maybe we should avoid such in future.

He claims to have been influences by John Rechy. Well, Rechy paints a far more atmospheric picture of seediness and raw sexual hunger.

One profundity:  the author, in an interview, spoke of ‘because it throws the body beyond the known parameters of sexual discourse. Almost like Freud’s death drive. I didn’t like Dean’s book because he seems to support the notion that barebacking is the pinnacle of masculinity, and sees that as radical because it fucks with traditional feminizations of gay sex. If so – it really confirms that masculinity is a kind of race poison……The human race, destroyed by a destructive discourse of masculine invincibility. Thinks itself superior to nature. A misguided belief that masculinity can and will dominate nature because it fears and loathes nature.’ He’s on to something there. For those who think that gay men are effeminate, the opposite is true. Devoid of civilising female influence, this is what it comes to.

In another interview, he said: pornography is hugely dull, I think, a lot of the time, because it relies on the quick arousal and nothing should get in the way of that. I was much more interested in putting things in the way of that, of playing around with the quick arousal, and also trying to find a different language to talk about body parts and sexual acts. Pornography is rather clichéd in that respect. So this idea of the interplay of language and sex became a dance between body parts and sexual acts and the language used to describe them, that language always being subconsciously aware of its own inability to adequately describe what is trying to be described.

Also: from Jacques Derrida. Because language is a choice, a selection of words to describe whatever it is you’re describing, whether it be sex, or a dream we have. In my writing classes I often talk about the subject of dreams. It’s a good example of what I’m trying to do in this book. In fact there are many dreams in the book. It is a book of dreams. When you try and describe a dream it betrays the reality of the dream, because the words that you choose fix it, but the dream itself is unfixable. So in terms of sex, there are many ways to describe it, whether comically or erotically, and each version betrays the truth of what happened. Every time we say something we’re betraying what we’re trying to articulate.

Well, I am sorry but this book doesn’t hack it.

return to the home page

The Father of Frankenstein – Christopher Bram

FOF(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is a well-written novel that puts little hints in to signpost where it is going. There are evocative descriptions, particularly of the First World War and of the flashback smells that the main character has as a result of a stroke.

It is based on the true story of James Whale, creator of Frankenstein and other horror movies, who has an out gay man back in the days when it was illegal.

The most moving scene is from the trenches when his best friend is killed.

It’s also funny: an old man indulges people out a sense of his former power and fame. There’s even an element of farce towards the end.

A bit of lust: hair-filled cup of an armpit.

Thinking of ‘home’ after you’ve emigrated: Midlands accents, like head colds that smother their consonants and flatten their speech…..Land of Hope and Glory? Land of smoke and driz­zle. England means nothing to him now. He has escaped and forgotten England.

An old man encountering modern youth: .”Mr. Kay. We’ll talk. You may interview me. But we must take this slowly.”

“Yes. Sorry. Right,” says Kay, grimacing at himself. “It’s just I’m so excited to meet you I can’t control myself. I mean, I wasn’t even sure you were alive until your secretary called.”

There’s no malice in that. There appears to be no guile or ulterior motives at all in the boy, and his dancing on Whale’s toes is nothing more than the headlong rush of youth. Lucky child, Whale thinks. He could never afford to be so thoughtless and carefree. If only he had been born an American.

Of the false memories we create each time we refine the telling of our life story: Inventing this life used to give Whale such strange pleasure. As the lies were refined and repeated over the years, he could almost believe that this was his past. But the lies feel different today. Maybe it is the ease with which Kay swallows them, or the fact that Whale hasn’t repeated this fairy tale in such a long time. Perhaps it’s an effect of the stroke, unplugging his facility for make-believe. But this pretty story, made from the odds and ends of people he’s known and books he’s read, doesn’t feel as convincing as it once did. It hangs upon him like a suit of clothes he’s too thin to wear anymore. The truth stands closer to him now, peering over his shoulder.

An acute observation about retirement: Once you stopped working and were of no use to people, even friends in the industry forgot your existence.

Ruminating upon mortality after seeing the results of his brain scan: The skull he saw on the light board is his prison, a bone box full of confusion and nightmare. Walking past nurses in starched caps and patients in stained bathrobes, Whale sees himself as a healthy-looking gen­tleman in Savile Row clothing, who secretly carries a prison on his shoulders.

Strict sabbatarianism was still around then: people would not an employ their gardener to mow their lawn on a Sunday, largely for fear of what their neighbours might think: He wakes up the next morning as clearheaded as a baby, only to find himself with nothing to do. Between church and blue laws, Sunday is shut up tighter than a rat’s ass.

Above all, the novel shows the barbarity and futility of war.

return to the home page

Are We There Yet? – David Levithan

AWTY(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

What is it with siblings? I have a sister whom is nine years older than me and we have nothing in common other than our parents. It’s the same for the two brothers in this book.

Then it’s different. My sister and I had nothing much to do with each other as children but the death of our mother reunited us.

In this story, the elder brother cares for his younger brother but they grow apart until their parents send them n on a holiday together, which they are both dreading.

On this holiday they drift even further apart until another person reunites them again.

I read this book in virtually one sitting. I wanted to get to the end to see what happened but I also did not want to get to the end because I didn’t want to part with the characters.

They say that ‘all roads lead to Rome.’  Like one of the brothers in this book, I met an old friend in Rome, from whom I’d drifted apart. I’ve heard other people tell the same tale.

It’s a bit like those pilgrimage observations where you have to travel a long distance to get back to the place where you first started.

return to the home page

Separate Rooms – Pier Vittorio Tondelli

SRs(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is a very moving love story. It’s understated, with no graphic details, so we can concentrate on the people and their feelings.

I don’t usually read any books that mention AIDS because I prefer escapism in my reading but this book was a welcome exception, musing on introversion, companionship and loss.

On the pros and cons of a civil partnership: Thomas’s father comes back in. Leo realizes he should leave. In this last moment, Thomas is back in the family fold, with the very same people who brought him into the world. Now, with their hearts torn asunder by suffering, they are trying to help Thomas to die. There is no room for Leo in this parental reconciliation. Leo is not married to Thomas. He has not had children with him. Neither of them bears the other’s name at the registry office, and there is not a single legal record on the face of the earth that carries the signatures of witnesses to their union. Yet for more than three years they have been passionately in love with one another. They have lived together in Paris and Milan, and they have travelled round Europe together. They have written together, played music together and danced together. They have quarrelled and abused each other, and even hated each other. They have been in love. But it is as if, without warning, beside that deathbed, Leo realized that he had experienced not a great love story, but rather some little school crush. As if they were telling him: You’ve both had a good time, and that’s okay too. But here we’re fighting a life and death struggle. Here a life is at stake. And we—a father, a mother and a son—are what really matters in life.

On introversion: When he was with Thomas he never asked himself about the deep-seated reasons why a person will live his life on his own, without having a family, without lovers. He does not have any children but, despite-that, he can in no way be described as a person for whom something is missing. In the glorification of his present solitude, which he has been pursuing for months as something worthwhile rather than something required, he forces himself to investigate other forms of solitude in the hope that they might teach him how to behave. He wants to get the better of himself, but to do so, and in order not to find himself ever again swept away in the karma of falling in love—never again to utter those words that he had said to Thomas, “I-love-you”, to anybody else—he needs someone who will teach him, someone to square up to.

Come to think of it, he has always been alone, which is why he knows how to deal with it. He never has a problem knowing what to do with his time, or what to do at night. He likes sleeping, he enjoys writing and reading, and every so often he enjoys chatting to people he does not know. But he has never felt as alone as he has since he lost Thomas, because in losing Thomas he has lost something that made the long sequence of youthful solitude bearable. When he travelled across country to go to university he never really talked to anyone on those seemingly endless journeys. The same in class: he never dared to ask questions, or ask for something to be explained. And if someone turned to him to ask something as simple as the time of day, he would stammer a vague reply, as if he were in front of an exam board. Everyone seemed to be better than he, much better looking, much better off, and certainly much cleverer. He would laugh at their quips….

A beautiful description of autumn: Across the continent autumn is putting on a dazzling display. There is stillness and silence. The forests are bursting with colours and the dying undergrowth ignites a whole range of hues, first red, then orange, yellow, russet, violet and black. As if each day the wind pushed a different shade into the air, and bushes and plants absorbed that coloured air in waves. And every so often there were whole hillsides scorched by acid rain. Trees already like skeletons, black and emaciated and charred. Now he is making his way across the Rhineland. The river is full and metallic grey. The barges chug slowly along, looking to Leo as if they are about to sink. He shuts his eyes. With Thomas, once, he had driven by car along the very road now running parallel with the train. It was spring.

On holocaust guilt: Next day, by the river Elbe, near the city ruins, with those damaged steeples blackened by fire and those dilapidated buildings where all that remained were slender, crumbling, riblike walls, like so many mountain spurs, all Leo talked to Thomas about was his father. And the war. And as they strolled along the boulevards of the Zwinger district, a particular memory came to him, as clear as a bell. A memory that had tormented him. He was in an armchair, in his mother’s arms, and they were looking at a film on TV. It was the story of a Jewish child, locked away in a concentration camp, who was saved by an American soldier. He had wept quietly, burying his face in his mother’s armpit, ashamed of his tears. And at the end of the film, when his parents had turned the lights back on in the room to tidy up a bit before going to bed, he felt upset and asked them: why? Now he cannot for the life of him recall what his father or mother replied. He can just remember how a feeling of terror gripped him and ran right through him as he lay in his little bed. He was terrified. He lay all night with his eyes wide open in the dark, breathing silently so that no one would know he was there, his body curled up in fear. And he kept on thinking: “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t responsible for any death camps. I wasn’t even born, and I’ve got nothing to do with those piles of dead bodies and those ditches filled with skeletons. So why do they make me look at the gas chambers? I haven’t done anything wrong. I didn’t have anything to do with it. Nothing at all.”
For years and years he had been hounded by a sense of guilt over those gas chambers, over the torture and destruction, as if he, Leo the little boy, had been the person chiefly responsible for it all. Then as he grew older he managed to put it all away in a cranny of his mind. He had built a cocoon of reasons and ideologies and rationalizations around the whole thing. The cocoon did not do away with his fear altogether, but it managed to keep it in check. He had experienced moments of violence. He had seen people beating each other up in the barracks dormitory. He had seen corruption and humiliation. He had seen the strong bullying the weak, but the cocoon had never opened up. It was still there and he thought he had almost got over all that. He was grown up. He was a man now, and he knew the score.

There is a good description of travelling on the Berlin underground before the wall came down, of being alone in a double-bed, waking up and realising that there is nobody else there.

On spirituality: has turned his obsession into an open gaze at himself. Since Thomas died, it is as if his sensibility has been purified. And now he is trying to head for what is essential. In this sense Thomas is not just a corpse that weighs him down, but a grain of life buried in his own mortality. Deep down, he is nurturing this grain, keeping it warm, helping it to grow, and trying to grow with it. Because with all his complicated introjections and repressions, Thomas is now the enlightened one, the one who has gone further. When Leo had seen him on his deathbed, in sweatcloths, he had thought that Thomas was changing back into Thomas-the-child; that in the short time left to him he was proceeding towards his origins; that through the enormity of his suffering he was changing not into something different, but into something that closely resembled him much more: infantile matter formed prematurely that yearned for the hush of nothingness.
So what he calls prayer is nothing more than an attitude of paying heed to things and people, observing and contemplating, and realizing that he must be involved with his own way of being. He has no altars to kneel down before. He has no temples or images to offer sacrifices to. So he celebrates life itself as a liturgy. He is aware of the presence of the sacred as something tangible in reality, something on which his gaze can alight with devoutness. When he thinks of prayer he says to himself: “I don’t know how to pray. But most of all I don’t know who to pray to.” Then he recalls his childhood, those hours of meditation, those discussions with priests, and the recital of all those words. And in his bookcase his hand automatically seeks out the Bible. He is happiest reading the Old Testament, in particular the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea. This preference is based not only on aesthetic considerations, but also, and more pertinently, on the fact that he still does not feel that redemption has arrived in his life; and the gospels appear to him like so many tableaux in a story he has yet to understand. But when he reads Hosea, when he reflects on the metaphor which makes God elect to conceive his people from the belly of a prostitute; when he considers the fact that God turns to his son in the language of a lover, when he sees him bent over the infant Israel, holding his hand as he teaches him how to walk; when he sees him enraged by the betrayal and the deaf ear with which his extreme love is returned, then Leo senses within himself his own religious calling like something that cannot be renounced. He does not have the serenity of the mystic. He simply has the inner upheavals of a soul dedicated to a quest. “You have been bitten by the metaphysical bug,” a smiling priest friend had said to him one day.
Many a time he had caught himself saying: “I can’t live without God, but I can live without religion.” He may have abandoned the practice of religion which was part of his boyhood, and which taught him how to interpret the world, and his surroundings, and his feelings, but he did so because he would not reconcile his life and his mysticism. He did so because his quest for God was sexual as well as emotional. At the same time he saw religion being practised in a weak and mawkish way, in a way that was emasculated and enfeebled, lacking the fertile passion and the violent receptivity of femininity or the exuberance of virility. A religion without sex for people who are afraid of the passions and the power of love. An accommodating, bourgeois religion, that is more often than not hypocritical. At the same time, on the other hand, even in his silent prayers, he was aware of putting his entire sexuality on the line. This is why he read Hosea. Because in those pages there was not an exclusively mental or spiritual vision of the relationship between God and His people. Rather, there was a representation of bodies, a representation of prostitution and wantonness, of the frenzy of separation, of wrath and of paternal protection. As has always been the case since time immemorial between people who love one another.

At times he had prayed while he was making love. His eyes strayed over the naked object of his desire with a most chaste, even virginal, reverence. He was aware of the miracle of having beside him the beauty of creation, and the wonder of being able to gaze upon it in silence. The wonder of being able to touch it with the rapt tips of his fingers, just as his eyes could stroke mountains at sunset. There was not the remotest notion of possessing the other, or having dominion over him. He did not want to steal anything, claim anything, or take anything away. He wanted everything to stay intact as it was in a feeling of gratitude and fullness. Hours could pass by in these insightful moments in which the loved one’s body became the universe, with its various constellations and its various worlds. And those occasions when it was Thomas who became immersed with him, whose eyes and hands ran across his body, on those occasions he would also pray, slipping off into slumber, because he was feeling the joy of experiencing his embarrassing finiteness as something that gave peace to others. He had used up most of a lifetime to achieve these moments of love and devotion—because they were in reality occasions to take stock—and from Isaiah and Virgil he called them the Golden Age. They were moments of such intimacy that some instinctive modesty had prevented him from ever talking about them with Thomas.
The desire for religion was triggered off when Hermann left him. In that period the sense of separation made Leo feel that he was constantly reduced to nothing. He felt he could not live without some values that were strong and comforting. In that moment he resurrected religion from his own consciousness, saying to himself: “If I’ve been a believer for eighteen years, why can’t I go on being a believer?” But he really did not manage to go on. He had gone to see a priest and he had told him, under the confessional oath, what was happening to him. As he spoke, embarrassed and confused, he realized that the person who was most perplexed was in fact the priest, who stammered “My God! My God!”, while clutching his rosary.

Leo could see the sweat running down his fingers that gripped the rosary. And then with a gesture of pride, because nothing gives one more courage than seeing others in a state of confusion and embarrassment, he, Leo the man, had said to the priest: “I want to live the way I am. Why should my freedom be judged by the conscience of others? Why should I be reproached for things for which I give thanks? This is written in the first epistle to the Corinthians. So why should I repent? I want to be happy. The fact that I must live seems atonement enough in my eyes. Only one man has been saved, father, not ten, or a hundred, or a thousand. And if one life was enough, just one, to reconcile a billion creatures to God, then this can only show us the huge pain of living. I cannot love the religion of sackcloth and suffering. I would like to love the religion of fullness. I want to be happy in my religion, because I experience it like a biological need, like eating and drinking and making love. But you don’t seem to understand this. I’m trying to tell you all this sincerely, but you deny my very existence. Yet for all you and I know, even dogs have a God.”
No, in this way it was just a trap. He could have joined a religious community. They would have been delighted to take him in. They would have felt even more in the right because the lost sheep had returned to the fold. But he could not give up his very own self. He could not cripple himself, and become one of those millions who are emasculated by religion—a poor, soul, dejected and penitent, and impoverished by the world. And for this reason he had slowly, day by day, aborted his need for God. If the fact of Hermann leaving him high and dry had pushed him towards a solitary pilgrimage and introspection, his separation from Thomas is pushing him towards religiousness and the sacred. With Hermann, perhaps, he had fully realized his need for the flesh-and-blood absolute in a love affair. And when he had been robbed of that, he had sought out in compensation the experience of mysticism.

Separation is an integral part of a relationship: “Now he had to give serious thought to the notion of living together with another man. But he had no models to follow, no experience to recycle and fall back on in this stage of their relationship. He knew that the love he still felt for Thomas would not be enough on its own. They would tear each other to pieces and that was the last thing he wanted… Living together meant believing in values that neither of them was capable of recognizing. How would their love end? Would they have no option but to normalize a relationship that society was in fact incapable of accepting as something normal? Would they not turn into the mirror image of those grotesque homosexual couples where one does all the cooking and the other always goes to the market to do the shopping? Where the two lovers resemble each other in their attitudes, in their way of doing things, even in their facial expressions, to the point where they become two pathetic replicas of one and the same unbearable imaginary male, emasculated and effeminate?”

Later: the fact that they lived apart had been a spur to staying together. Now he had to give serious thought to the notion of living together with another man. But he had no models to follow, no experience to recycle and fall back on in this stage of their relationship. He knew that the love he still felt for Thomas would not be enough on its own. They would tear each other to pieces and that was the last thing he wanted. They would hurt each other, and then they would leave each other high and dry. Living together meant believing in values that neither of them was capable of recognizing. How would their love end? Would they have no option but to normalize a relationship that society was in fact incapable of accepting as something normal? Would they not turn into the mirror image of those grotesque homosexual couples where one does all the cooking and the other always goes to the market to do the shopping? Where the two lovers resemble each other in their attitudes, in their way of doing things, even in their facial expressions, to the point where they become two pathetic replicas of one and the same unbearable imaginary male, emasculated and effeminate?…. The two words, but with a significance that seemed to Leo to be as full and adequate as a well worked out concept—the tiny phrase that he found himself writing in one of his letters was “separate rooms”. And he explained to Thomas that, with him, what he wanted was a relationship based on proximity, a relationship that involved belonging to each other, but not possessing each other. He explained he was happier to be on his own, but at the same time he thought of Thomas as his preferred lover, the favourite partner in a perennial engagement. He explained that they should not be afraid of their solitude, that, rather, they should experience it as the most complete fruit of their love, because, essentially, even being apart, they belonged to one another and still loved each other. He explained that they would spend the spring and summer of every year travelling together, and that in the winter they would each work on their own projects. He explained that it was a difficult choice, above all a different choice, but that in his heart he, Leo, knew he could not handle it any other way. Last of all he explained that he would be faithful to “separate rooms” until his death.

All in all, to what extent to we idealise (idolise) ‘perfect’ relationships with the ‘right’ partner and miss out on all sorts of possibilities?

return to the home page

Shakespeare’s Sonnets – S. Park

SS(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I am just old enough to have encountered university when the institution saw itself as responsible for one’s moral welfare. There were rules about not allowing members of the opposite sex into one’s room beyond a certain time of night.

A student is sent down for immorality and he later commits suicide. I would liked to have known more about him. It is as if the author uses his story as a gripping start and having thus ‘used’ him is no more interested in him, casting him aside. The Harvard described in this book is like that. Any books with a sexual content are stored in ‘the cage’ part of the library and only available to students if essential for their studies.

“”Harvard is like most anyone’s father,” Jean began.”It will turn a blind eye to a lot of things. As long as, later, we marry, become industrialists, and donate ridiculous amounts of money to the school.”

Adam had his doubts. Harvard didn’t leave men alone. It saw them as the future of the nation, and took the responsibility of educating them seriously. They would not allow for weakness of character, for moral impru­dence, for effeminacy.”

I liked the brash student who wrote an essay on a different author from the one set because he regarded his teacher’s taste in authors to be lamentable.

The teacher’s plight was caught well by: Professor Mullins ended his last class of the semester with a vague feeling of sadness. It never ceased to be strange. To spend a few months with a group of people, to teach them, to care for them. And then to see them go. He felt like a creature in some fairy tale, destined for the rest of his life to teach other people’s children and then watch them vanish into their futures.

return to the home page

Wide Awake – David Levithan

WA(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

As it is written for teenagers, I can forgive the cheesiness of some of the sub plots.

It is set in the future when a gay Jew is elected president of the United States but the vote is challenged by hawks. These hawks have the same mentality as now but Christianity has largely moved on to being inclusive and non-judgemental, yet since fundamentalism and hawkishness feed of one another, I wonder how this could be.

I wonder if there will still be schools, as we know them today, in an internet age. The school in this novel has an opinionated teacher expressing views that would lead to his being suspended now, let alone in the future and they still pledge allegiance to the flag. The students rightly ask him what is the point of studying history if it is not to change the world.

A mother worrying about her child is the same, whatever the year.

return to the home page

A Perfect Waiter – Alain Claude Sulzer

apw(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The hotel trade expects long hours from all workers from porters to mangers. Work is an escape for the waiter of the title, who doesn’t have a day off for illness in over twenty years. This results in acute loneliness since nearly all his relationships are when he is in role (even the person whom he thought loved him was merely using him). He is emotionally stuck, captivated by his first love for decades after his being dumped.

The loneliness is intensified when he is the victim of gang violence and he is unable to report this to the police because he, himself, is breaking a cruel law merely by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story of this book is told in a restrained manner yet it is vivid and erotic in places.

Most memorable, after the violence, is the hypocrisy of a rich and powerful man who used a young man for his own gratification and then said that this young man’s death was a punishment for his depravity.

Two passages which will stay in my memory for some time to come:

Erneste hadn’t been expecting it. While they were walking down to the lake—it was on a Sunday morning in July, two months almost to the day after his arrival in Giess­bach—Jakob had, out of the blue, draped his left arm around Erneste’s shoulders and kissed him.

Nothing had happened to warrant that kiss, other than the fact that it might not have escaped Jakob how ardently Erneste had been yearning for his touch throughout those past few weeks. Sympathy for the exigencies of a man in love, especially a man in love with another man, was no reason for kissing him like that—kissing him not in the seclusion of their attic room but outside in the open and visible from all directions, a thoroughly dangerous en­vironment in which unwelcome onlookers could be ex­pected to appear at any moment.

Jakob didn’t kiss Erneste like a brother, or like some­one kissing his father or mother. He kissed him like a lover, without fear or inhibition—a trifle clumsily, too, because he probably hadn’t had much practice at it. In kissing Erneste he was doing something forbidden. He knew it, yet he did it. He did it in a place where they might have been caught unawares, for hotel guests could have come upon them at any moment. The weather was fine, just the weather for strolling down to the lake—before or after a swim, with or without children, hand in hand or walking decorously apart—and returning to the hotel by cable car. They risked being seen because the shrubs and trees around them provided only sparse protection from unwelcome eyes. Jakob was endangering himself and endangering Erneste, but he overrode all his misgivings.

He wasn’t deterred in the least by his own audacity. His desire to kiss his friend was evidently stronger than his fear of being rejected. In spite of his own desire for physical contact with Jakob, or for that very reason, Erneste would never so much as have ventured to brush against him, whereas Jakob, the inexperienced young man from Germany, was doing, and doing with complete unconcern, what Erneste would never have dared to do and would always be grateful for. Jakob had no fear of being rejected, so he made the first move. Wherever that move would lead in the end, it now led straight to paradise.

Jakob’s tongue took possession of Erneste’s mouth, invading it unimpeded. Needless to say, Erneste returned the kiss as willingly and ardently as he had received it. His breathing quickened, sucking air from Jakob’s lungs, and his heart pounded. Nothing could have surprised him more than this reckless onslaught, just as nothing could have delighted him more than this fulfillment of his dearest wish. He had never dared to hope that it could genuinely be fulfilled. He had too often dreamed that Jakob’s arms were around him, and now they really were. He was in paradise at last, filled with lust and sensuality, apprehension and fear of discovery.

At first, however, he strove to maintain a certain distance between them, not wanting Jakob to feel how crudely his desire was manifesting itself. Aroused as never before, with his penis engorged to bursting point, he naturally had to maintain this gap of a few inches, this hurdle, only until it was cleared by Jakob himself. When his body abruptly thrust itself against Erneste’s, it was obvious that each of them was as aroused as the other. Their bodies and temperaments complemented each other.

So there they stood on the shrub- and tree-lined woodland path leading down to the lake, closely entwined and inadequately shielded from the gaze of potential witnesses who could not but disapprove because they would regard the sight that met their eyes as “sick and depraved”—the list of current descriptions was a long one. Jakob might not be acquainted with it yet, but Erneste was. Despite this, they not only kissed but began to touch whatever their hands could reach without interrupting their kiss, without severing the bond between their lips. Their hands roamed over shoulders and back, neck and hair, arms, hips and buttocks—or over the cloth, at least, that covered the flesh, sinews and muscles beneath.

It was Erneste who summoned up the courage to put his right hand on Jakob’s penis, whose presence he had long felt. Without hesitation, unafraid of being re­pulsed, his hand enveloped the cloth beneath which Jakob’s penis strained as powerfully, crudely and shock­ingly as his own.

Jakob didn’t recoil. On the contrary, he pressed even closer, his penis sliding obediently through Erneste’s fingers beneath the cloth. Erneste felt the glans, gripped the shaft, cupped his hand around Jakob’s testicles. Jakob groaned aloud. Erneste stifled the sound with his lips. Jakob was trembling all over. No one had ever touched him where Erneste’s hand now lay, and while the ball of Erneste’s thumb moved slowly up and down between glans and shaft, navel and scrotum, his own hand soon found its way to Erneste’s penis. He groaned again between two intakes of breath, and this time a sigh escaped his lips. To Erneste, his breath felt like a silken cloth fluttering in his ear.

It was little short of a miracle that no hotel guests or Sunday excursionists crossed their path during those five minutes of perfect bliss. If they had, there would un­doubtedly have been a scandal. But Erneste and Jakob had the shameless good fortune to be alone in the world for a few moments, alone and unobserved. Nobody came their way, neither adult nor child. Had they been caught, they would have been dismissed the same day.


He was lying on the floor when he recovered con­sciousness. Unsurprised, he fought for breath as he lay there on his back. He could hear himself gasping, hear his own hoarse breathing. Then he was hit with some heavy object, some kind of cudgel, first in the chest, then in the stomach. He curled up on his side, but no sooner had he done so than someone kicked him in the ribs. So there was more than one of them. He heard shouts nearby, but not for long. They were scared of attracting the attention of outsiders and alerting the police. Erneste wasn’t the only one they’d picked on for their night’s entertainment. Two or three others had also failed to make a run for it in time. There were several assailants, three at least. They never came alone and were always armed with weapons of some kind.

What he had always dreaded had now come to pass: they had caught him. Now he was in it up to his neck. They would kick and beat him senseless.

Too engrossed in his own thoughts, which were unconnected with his personal safety, he hadn’t been alert or quick enough. He hadn’t heard them coming or detected their lurking presence. They wanted their fun and they were having it. They beat up on anyone in the park they could catch, and they would go on doing so for as long as they thought fit. They alone would determine the duration of this orgy of violence. They were young and strong and convinced of the unimpeachable nature of what they were doing.

They usually turned up on weekends, but today was Thursday. Warm, viscous blood was oozing from his nose and mouth. How on earth could he appear for work with a swollen nose and split lips?

Another blow, a faint, crunching sound from beneath the skin, and he passed out again. That was his temporary salvation.

The next time he recovered consciousness he at once took in the fact that four men were standing over him. They were concentrating on him alone. “Pervert!” they growled. “Filthy queer!” Erneste felt as if he was lying with his head in a dog turd, but what did that matter in his predicament? Why worry about that, of all things?

There was a lot of raucous laughter. He didn’t catch what else was said because a thick, soundproof wall had muffled every sound. Kicks were being delivered. Each of the men was at liberty to kick him as often and in as many places as he chose. It’s always the same, he thought: first you have a good idea, then a bad one. Strangely enough, only his assailants seemed to be really with it; he himself could scarcely feel a thing.

Perhaps one of the many blows he’d sustained had rendered him insensitive to all the blows that followed. Perhaps that crucial blow had struck, severed and deac­tivated a special nerve essential to the experiencing of pain. His body felt alien to him. Although he was lying helpless on the floor, he took a long stride, and after that he found himself in another world, and every succeeding blow reinforced his position in that other world. Another blow, and another, or no blow at all—it didn’t matter, he felt none of them. One connected with his knee, another with his genitals, another with his head again. They had stamina, his assailants, you had to grant them that much. He couldn’t see their faces. They continued to aim deliberate, almost desperate blows at him, a squirming figure that might or might not have been screaming as well—he couldn’t hear—but seemed curiously absent. He was elsewhere, but he probably wouldn’t die; the frontier he’d just crossed gave access to deserted terrain, a ren­dezvous for the insensitive. He was in a state of drunken dissolution, not a permanent condition but one that fortunately persisted. Then it went dark again. Jakob and the letter, Klinger and America, Julie and his own uninteresting existence—all had disappeared. Everything within him concentrated on remaining in that other world.

The noise had almost died down by the time he came to again. Guffawing, they unzipped their flies. What better way of demonstrating their superiority, what more effective display of contempt, than to wisecrack as they pissed on him? They must have been drinking beer, because it was two or three minutes before they strode out, one of them whistling a popular tune. They’d had an enjoyable Thursday night. Everything had gone the way they’d hoped, maybe even better.

A church clock struck once just as he tried to get to his feet. It had to be one o’clock or half-past. He was overcome by the pain he’d been spared until now.

His attempt to get up seemed to rend him in two. He collapsed. He couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk, couldn’t call for help. No sound escaped his lips, just a trickle of blood. He was doomed to pick up the thread they’d extracted from his body: he wasn’t dead.

No morning newspaper would report what had hap­pened here. He was alone, the others had gone, no one could help him, no one would tend him. He should go to the hospital, but he wouldn’t. The urine was beginning to evaporate and leave a sticky film on his skin. Unable to suppress his nausea, he vomited, soiling his jacket and trousers. It was self-loathing that eventually lent him the strength to stand up. He had to. His clothes were sodden, torn and filthy like his inner self—there was no differ­ence. His one thought was to get away from there, to get up, go home and wash, sluice off the filth they’d soiled him with. He was soiled. That wouldn’t wash off so quickly, but he must make a start. He must wash, shower, soak in the bathtub, lie there until the stench of blood and urine and vomit had disappeared from this cramped world of his, until the scent of soap had displaced the stench of humiliation.

A more recent review is here.

return to the home page