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Rick Whitaker is the author of Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling and The First Time I Met Frank O’Hara: Reading Gay American Writers. He is Concerts and Theatre Manager of The Italian Academy at Columbia University, New York.
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This novel is composed entirely of sentence-length quotations from other books. It hangs together in a kind of fascinating, shimmery way, like a pointillist painting. It is elusive, erudite, and beautiful. And it is a tour de force.
As someone who, like many classical musicians, largely expresses himself via other people's music, I was naturally intrigued to read an intensely personal, confessional novel where none of the text is, well... original. Having emerged, I've been trying to think of how to describe the experience. Dreamlike. Hallucinatory. Riveting. Edmund White called it, quite brilliantly, "percussive." For me it felt like attending a masquerade ball with all the most interesting people saying all the most interesting things, but with their faces obscured. Or hearing someone tell their deepest secrets from behind a wall. Anyway...as you see, it defies description, and it's about time people wrote books that leave people like me speechless. What an achievement.
I can't tell you how much I regret reading this book - it was chosen for a book club so I pursued it to the bitter end, and what a relief that was. It turns out you can't come up with anything inspiring if you make a novel out of quotes from other books. You can't be anything other than banal and incoherent by turns. Or at least Rick Whitaker can't.
I have never seen anything like this novel before, and I love innovative, experimental books. This story is strange and odd, but it's a real, compelling adventure of a smart gay man with a boyfriend and a child and some fascinating views of memory and the life of the mind. I loved looking at the notes to see the source for my favorite sentences, and I had a great time with this beautiful book.
Like the "Four Quartets, " "An Honest Ghost" is replete with coming and goings: Eliot says,"here, there" "in my beginning is my end... " but with Whitaker, the door is opened and finally shut, as if you are wating for a train, and you get on it, and you leave.....a modern genre (stroke of genius) never written before, and dare I say an unassuming labor of love. I have not yet read anything so fresh and new in years, truly original. The atmosphere, the double of ourselves, peering, gazing into a a myriad of quotes and possibilities that create an artistic whole. Fortunatley I know the author and he is as humble and quixotic as is this gem of a book. Read it, you'll feel transported into a Gaugin, or Picasso...or any world of your choice.