978-0-375-40005-6 / 9780375400056

The Married Man


Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf


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About the book:

Austin Smith, 49-year-old American cultural journalist and 18th-century French furniture specialist living in Paris, meets Julien, 29-year-old French architect, at the gym. Although Julien is The Married Man, it 's not long before the two are an established couple, attempting to deal with Julien's unexpected illness, his mysterious family past and his conventional bourgeois mores--so distant from those espoused by 1970s gay product Austin--as they flit with "Aids-restlessness" between Paris and the French countryside, Italy, North Africa and the US.

Edmund White's fiction has always drawn on his own experience, from A Boy 's Own Story to The Beautiful Room Is Empty to The Farewell Symphony--indeed, The Married Man reworks a final section of that last, monumental elegy. It's impossible to imagine Austin Smith, ageing HIV-positive American expatriate in Paris, without seeing Edmund White, expatriate HIV-positive American author in Paris, exploring his "posthumous, post-diagnosis, foreign days". And, thanks to Stephen Barber 's recent biography, Edmund White: The Burning World, it's an easy enough job for the curious to make the more detailed connections. Yet White 's writing has never been lazily autobiographical and here, writing in the third person, he seems at even greater pains to distance himself from Austin, who is presented with no little comic irony. Partly, that comes with the territory of being an American in Paris: "Austin was a foreigner and what he did and said were thrown into relief". However, his foreignness, in turn, is a useful lens for viewing the US as an alien, horribly unintellectual, culture; some of the book 's finest moments come as Austin starts teaching in Providence, Rhode Island, painfully oblivious to the recent cultural shifts of his homeland, adrift and belligerent in a brave new world of political correctness and homeboys, unable to grasp that the simple fact of being a gay man does not necessarily make him a woman's best friend. The resultant distancing of author from hero makes for a far tauter, less self-indulgent writing--and a love story that is at times banal and irritating but never less than convincing and, at its climax, unbearably moving. White writes of "the tackiness of survival" that leads "inevitably" to forgetting and faithfulness; in The Married Man he has ensured that one great love story cannot be forgotten or betrayed.--Alan Stewart

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