THE MARBLE QUILT

David Leavitt, Author
David Leavitt, Author . Houghton Mifflin $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-395-90244-8
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Leavitt's nine short stories take their cue less from contemporary short-attention-span fiction and more from the stratified ironies of a Malamud or a Cheever. In "The Infection Scene," Leavitt parallels the real life of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), with that of a fictitious but equally malign contemporary cock-teaser, Christopher, a San Francisco teen who has a romantically inaccurate fascination with getting AIDS. Although both Bosie and Christopher are walking disasters, they are also undeniably attractive, wayward naïfs. Another, although lesser, naïf, Ezra Hartley, is the con man in "The Black Box." Ezra comes to New York with a video he wants to sell the networks, showing footage of a plane that has just exploded on the way to England and the troop of school kids who were on board. He enlists Bob Bookman, a native New Yorker whose lover was also killed in the crash, to help him, drawing him deeply into a clockwork-perfect dance of delusion and lust. In the title story, the narrator, Vincent Burke, gives details of the life of his ex-lover, Tom, to two Roman carabinieri after Tom is found murdered. Although Tom's murder isn't solved in the story, the enigmas in his life—from his friendship with patronizing "liberal" straight couples in San Francisco to his late-blooming obsession with marble in Rome—become clearer. This story is infused with an anger that exists, like a lit fuse, just below its dense writerliness. Straining to contain his sense of the outrages of gay history beneath the luster of an accomplished style, Leavitt achieves an electric narrative energy. Author tour.(Sept. 4)

Forecast:Though smaller in scope than Leavitt's recent novel, Martin Bauman; or, A Sure Thing, this is a more surefooted and emotionally complex effort and should please gay and straight readers alike.

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