cover image Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise

Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise

Paul Monette. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $21.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100071-5

Monette, a brave and impassioned gay activist, won a National Book Award in 1992 for his autobiography, Becoming a Man. However, the essays collected here--some are original, others are reprinted from Frontiers magazine, the New York Times , etc.--are not uniformly satisfying; Monette's prose is mannered, at turns maudlin and splenetic. The pieces are wide-ranging: Monette pays tribute to his loyal dog, Puck; to gay priests; and to an unidentified former grande dame of Broadway, who is gay in both senses of the word and full of gossip about Garbo and Katherine Cornell. He also writes about the 1993 march in Washington for gay and lesbian rights. Recurrent themes--the galvanizing impact of the AIDS crisis on both the gay movement and its enemies; love's ability to transcend the fragility of a body weakened by disease--hold the collection together. But Monette's attempts at lyricism and humor are awkward, the outbursts at the opponents of gay rights splinter almost every essay. Certainly one cannot be too angry about the homophobia that pervades American society, but some of Monette's subjects would be better served by more nuanced and self-effacing prose. (June)