Top critical review
lives dancing around each other
on 13 April 2016
This novel is important in the study of gay literature be cause it shows what gay life was like in the decade after the Stonewall incident of 1969, reveals characters in all walks of gay life, including the gay drug-user, the transvestite, the gay businessman, etc. and it demonstrates one possible path for a gay man in the 1970s: to come out, get laid for the first time with a stranger, join the circuit, meet other gays of every possible stereotype through sex, become a hooker, and eventually become an old and wizened gay, who no longer desires sex as a means to intimacy and personal happiness.
The novel revolves around two main characters: Anthony Malone, a young man from the Midwest who leaves behind his "straight" life as a lawyer to immerse himself in the gay life of 1970s New York, and Andrew Sutherland, variously described as a speed addict, a socialite, and a drag queen. From Manhattan's Everard Baths and after-hours discos to Fire Island's deserted parks and lavish orgies, Malone looks high and low for meaningful companionship. The person he finds is Sutherland, a campy quintessential queen. Their social life includes long nights of drinking, dancing, and drug use in New York's gay bars. Though they enjoy many physical pleasures, their lives lack any spiritual depth. The "dance" of the novel's title becomes a metaphor for their lives. Malone is described as preternaturally beautiful; much of the plot concerns Sutherland's efforts to leverage Malone's beauty by "marrying" him to a young millionaire.
The book switches perspective often. Sometimes characters are tracked closely using more traditional omniscient narrative techniques. On other occasions (especially later in the book), the lives of Malone and Sutherland are seen from the perspective of bystanders in the New York gay scene - the book itself is literally written by the other dancers at the dance.
Though Dancer is a work of fiction, what emerges is a sense of the extent to which underground gay parties built the foundation of all that became recognized as club culture. The story is told from the point of view of one member of the amorphous mass of revelers in Malone’s social sphere, and this device allows Holleran to pepper Dancer with philosophical musings that strike a chord deeper than basic tenets of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
It was Holleran's first novel and reads like one. The author's writing style seems to consist of lists.
He didn't do research but kept a diary. He observed: When you went dancing in those days, it was a group gathered in a room at strange hours. There was a secrecy about it, and the music took you out of yourself in a way religious ceremonies can.
Andrew Holleran is a pseudonym. The author's real name is Eric Gerber. He was born in 1943 in Aruba. He took up the pen name when Dancer was published to avoid homophobic backlash and has stuck with it through the years.