Profane Friendship

Harold Brodkey, Author
Harold Brodkey, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $23 (387p) ISBN 978-0-374-23544-4
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-1-56279-071-4
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-4464-1979-3
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-374-52973-4
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Brodkey, who struggled so publicly for so long with his mammoth The Runaway Soul , seems to have broken his block, writing this full-length novel apparently in a matter of months--and to a commission, yet, from the city of Venice, where it is set. As in The Runaway Soul , there is misguided gigantism at work here. What could have been a touching, atmospheric novella about two boys growing up together in Venice has become a monstrously swollen, infinitely repetitious account of a partly homosexual relationship between youths who act and talk infinitely beyond their ages. Niles (Nino) O'Hara, the son of a successful American writer, meets Onni, scion of a rising Italian Fascist, at the English school in Venice before WW II. He goes back to America at the outbreak of war, picks up again with Onni in 1946 when they are, respectively, about 13 and 15--and Onni has become something of a male whore as well as a bit player in movies. They taunt each other interminably, verbally and sexually, drinking, smoking and taking drugs all the while; they fight, make up and occasionally try girls they pick up in the streets. In the book's closing pages Niles returns yet again, to find Onni a famous, world-weary movie star, still challenging him. Venice in its darker moods is often strikingly caught, and its pre- and postwar atmosphere is skillfully conveyed. But Brodkey's logorrhea is painful to read, endlessly, strenuously yet tentatively straining for effect; never has a severe editor been more needed. There is a considerable talent here, certainly, but buried in self-indulgence. (Mar.)
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