Saturday, October 6, 2007

Edmund White's "Hotel de Dream"

Edmund White may be best known for his trilogy of autobiographical novels, A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty and The Farewell Symphony, and the bestselling The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new novel, Hotel de Dream, and reported the following:
Page 99:

... hammer and nails. He stood on the chair and banged it into place.

“So no daylight for me then?”

“You can use some string to tie the sides together during the daylight hours. I’ll bring you a lamp tomorrow.”

Day after day Theodore added one little thing after another -- a washcloth, dried biscuits, a second pillow, a clean set of sheets, a book about Ragged Dick the Newsboy by Horatio Alger, subtitled Street Life in New York. It was supposed to be edifying.

Theodore always came at five now; he lied and told his wife he was studying Italian with an elderly gentleman from Florence because he wanted to have the best accent when they made their grand voyage to the Continent in another year.

It wasn’t that Theodore hoped to be rid of Christine or to live with Elliott. He didn’t think ahead, though usually it was in the nature of love to plan. Rather, he wanted everything to continue exactly as it was -- his position at the bank, his hour a day with Elliott’s warm naked body seated on his lap, the substantial meals at home on 16th Street, his goodnight kisses with his children, the half hour alone in bed before he fell asleep during which he could think about Elliott’s tiny, sensitive ears he nibbled while he stood behind him, the deep, bluish shadow hollowed out above his prominent clavicles, the high instep of feet that were marred by a farmer’s horny nails, the way his face looked at once so young and so weary. Weary because of the dark circles under his eyes and the down-sweep of his mouth. Young because his nose and ears were still diminutive with youth, and the wings of his nose were oily and rough with nearly invisible bumps that could...

I think the Ford Madox Ford test is accurate in my case. Hotel de Dream is about Stephen Crane during the last two weeks of his life; he died at age 28 from tuberculosis in 1900. My idea is that he was dictating a novel, The Painted Boy, to his common-law wife Cora so that she would have something to sell after his death. This page is from that inner novel. In it a middle-aged paunchy banker named Theodore Koch has fallen in love with a sixteen-year-old runaway, Elliott, who has become a newsboy and prostitute. They are both stunned by what has happened to them -- Elliott because he understands very little of New York, life or sex; Theodore because his passion for Elliott has awakened him from a very somnolent and conventional form of married life.

In this scene Theodore, who has rented a room for the boy, is helping him to furnish it. One of the first things he has bought is a heavy curtain on a rod that will keep out all prying glances. Of course there is no way to keep the world at bay for long and the tragic demise of this inner story happens when the world takes notice of the couple. The emphasis on Elliott's body is characteristic of Theodore's thoughts, as well as his refusal to contemplate the future, which can only be bad news.

Theodore's studying Italian foreshadows his later violent involvement with an Italian sculptor and an Italian hit man.

Does the style in this passage sound like Crane? Some critics say yes, others say no....
Read an excerpt from Hotel de Dream, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue