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on 26 March 2010
For some reason I didn't read this book when it was new, and then I consciously put off reading it. Surely no book could live up to the reputation it'd acquired? But "Dancer from the Dance" is everything it's been said to be, unashamedly romantic, poetic, lyrical, elegiac, a hymn to beauty saturated with religious imagery, Christian and Pagan. In it, we meet the beautiful, elusive Anthony Malone, young man of good family, ex-lawyer, now a "professional faggot" living for love, music and the dance in 1970s New York, aka Suck City. We also meet his mentor, Andrew Sutherland, gay leper (he has a small penis) and the queen to end all queens; an updated Lord Henry Wootton to Malone's Dorian Grey. We follow them and their companions on the circuit as they pursue a strangely monastic life, a life stripped down to one thing - love - servants of Priapus seeking the Beatific Vision. And if all this sounds over the top, it is. If you have a romantic heart, the book draws you into its overheated, hedonistic world.

In my view the recent critics of "Dancer from the Dance" have got it wrong. Accept the book on its own terms and immerse yourself in its celebratory vision of love, beauty and sex.
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on 29 December 2009
This is an amazing book. It has two of modern fiction's most memorable characters: Malone, enigmatic, charming and seaqrching for an elusive happiness; and Sutherland, the queen to end all queens. And it is set in a background of New York in the sixties and seventies which most of us can only imagine. Indeed, the book is as much about New York as its human characters and its portrayal of gay life is comic, tragic, gross and elegaic by turns. This is a book which has inspired others but is like no other. It portrays a lifestyle that is compelling and disturbing at the same time and which is both compulsive and repellent for those who are living it. I ended up wishing I had been there and being thankful I was not for it was a destructive life that was also irresistible.
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This novel has long been my favourite on the gay experience, recalling a time when gay life was at its zenith: very sexual, underground, very linked to a certain kind of music and nocturnal life in certain cities. It was before Aids which gave the characters in this book maximum freedom, even if fulfilment remains, to some extent, elusive. But that is all part of its strange hold; it is really a hymn to longing, extended over 250 pages. The writing itself mirrors this, creating an effect rather like a mirage. You do not feel so much close to the characters as becoming one with their element. The beautiful sentences, the almost relentless elegance of the writing, create something that suddenly takes you over, seduces you completely, a bit like one of those perfect nights at the disco you never wanted to end, where each song would take you higher. The disco evoked here with such magic is called The 12th Floor and Holleran gets superbly the sense of desire and hope that percolates through the spangly lights and the darker recesses. To actually see anyone's face too closely would be like the harsh light of day on some precious and fragile artifact - Botticelli's illustrations of Dante, perhaps. The image may be faint, but under the right light the magic may be fully apprehended by those who really want to see it ... It reminds me a bit of the Buddhist saying: Happiness IS the way ...
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on 11 September 2014
DANCER FROM THE DANCE was hailed in 1978 by one reviewer as "the best gay novel written by anyone of our generation." That generation was about to be decimated by the arrival of a disease first known as GRID (Gay-related immune deficiency), later re-branded as Aids. Reading with unavoidable hindsight I kept thinking of Roger Corman's film of Poe's THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH with the Plague Bringer wandering up the grand staircase and through the dancers in the palace ballroom. A pestilence was about to descend on the disco dancers of 1970s New York, on the bronzed hardbodies of Fire Island.

The book's two main characters, the unbelievably gorgeous but deeply unhappy Malone and the extravagant drag queen Sutherland, are two of Manhattan's party people whose lives revolve around nights of clubbing and summer weekends at the beach. Every moment is devoted to finding hot new guys to dance with and shag. Poppers come in ampoules rather than (diluted) bottles (simpler times!). In the clubs "everyone was reduced to an ecstatic gloom ... how aching, how desperate." It's not hard to see why the Religious Right in America saw Aids as God's retribution on the citizens of Sodom and Gotham.

Andrew Holleran's narrator weirdly - even perversely - romanticises the great gay 'delirium' (his word for it), which takes place in toilets and backrooms, in abandoned buildings and under boardwalks. He doesn't call it sex. He calls it love. Malone and Sutherland are, with a new guy every night, looking for love.

The unnamed narrator, infatuated with Malone and amused by Sutherland, tells their story in a prose style in which the textured lushness of Truman Capote is intermittently punctuated by the blunt terminology of a high-school corridor. There's a lot of lurid sex talk but very few descriptions of actual sex. The chapter in which Malone falls in and out of love with an Italian electrician is almost as overripe as Barbara Cartland but very touching for all that. Hard not to assume that Malone is a self-portrait.

This is a version of gay New York peopled entirely by scene queens, hustlers and mega-rich predators prowling for toyboys. There's scarcely a glimpse of gay men living domesticated or culturally-oriented lives outside the Scene and not many echoes of lonely men closeted in the intolerant boondocks. It's possible that the author is mocking the 1970s scene and its denizens, but the book reads more like a social chronicle than as a satire.

In the second half of this relatively short novel (150 pages) Sutherland's brand of camp and lurid sex-talk becomes wearisome, as it does when you're over-exposed to it in daily life. There's a framing device of cod ladies-of-letters exchanges between the author and a grand queen who's retired to the Deep South; these exchanges are seriously OTT and richly funny.

Holleran's extravagant prose, like his cast, is very much of his time, although of course that style and that lifestyle are still pretty much part of today's 'Scene'. A lot of contemporary fiction (not all of it gay) suffers from florid over-writing, and a lot of people (not all of them gay) still live by the same code: eat, drink, dance, do drugs and screw our brains out, for tomorrow we ... become old and staid!

DANCER FROM THE DANCE - an anthem for doomed youth - manages to read as a book of its time and of ours. For me the great gay novel of the pre-Aids era is John Rechy's CITY OF NIGHT, written in a Beat-era style that owes a debt to Jack Kerouac, a style Rechy never recaptured in the tawdry pseudo-porn books that followed. Rechy is a more urgent writer than Holleran, but Holleran's reputation will probably outlast Rechy's; perhaps it already has.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]
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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.
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on 29 January 2013
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on 30 April 2013
I read this book after reading an article where Rupert Everett named this as one of his favourite books. I'm an avid reader but other than the Well of Loneliness have never read any other gay literature. This book catapulted me into 1970s New York gay society, and what an amazing ride this book was, the protagonist Malone is initially a complicated vulnerable character who gradually gets sucked into the gay scene and eventually embraces it with abandon. After reading this book, I can honestly say that for the first time in my life I wanted to be 1) male and 2) gay and 3) living in New York - this coming from a 47 year old heterosexual woman. If you want a book that is beautiful and shocking and hedonistic and vivid with life and colour then read this, you really will not be disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2016
A highly courageous work of its day, dealing with gay life and affairs in a still deeply hostile and ignorant society at the time. To UK (and other foreign) readers, its setting is difficult to imagine, since this is in New York and close by, although the author himself is UK born. To a point, its theme is familiar in other ways, the need to remain secret in society and the gradual death of a number of characters, (AIDS). At least this realistic for its time, not the thematic death of anyone gay (see Death in Venice for a particularly absurd version of this) If this gay material is to your taste, follow Holleran's writing, later work in particular.
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on 10 February 2013
After reading some reviews of this book I was expecting a good read, i found however that it was lacking in narrative. When reading through the book there was no real storey to get into, the only reason I finished reading it was so I could discuss it at a book club. It is certainly very much in the moment of 70s New York, really not a very uplifting read.
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on 26 October 2008
This is an amazing book. I picked up a copy in a second hand bookstore in New York. I would wholly recommend that you read this book too.
Set on the gay circuit in New York c. 1975, I never imagined that the central themes teased out through the two main characters, Sutherland and Malone, could have remained so relevant today.
Timeless, breathtaking, witty, devastating, and above all beautiful...
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