cover image The Beautiful Room Is Empty

The Beautiful Room Is Empty

Edmund White. Knopf Publishing Group, $17.95 (227pp) ISBN 978-0-394-56444-9

This sequel to A Boy's Own Story is a satisfying successor to that acclaimed 1982 novel, taking the narrator through the 1950s and '60s as he matures as a gay man at the University of Michigan and later in New York. Some of White's previous fiction (Forgetting Elena, Caracole) has been considered opaque and inaccessible, but his discursive stylea modified stream of consciousness that leans luxuriantly and effectively on metaphor and simileaptly suits A Boy's Own Story and this novel, both books of memory, never too tightly plotted, but always revelatory of character and milieu as a wise narrator dissects his past and the web of his relationships with family, lovers and friends. Life in the novel is life as it is remembered, and the two novels form the lyrical but politically pointed fictional autobiography of a homosexual recalling his youth (in A Boy's Own Story) and, in this novel, the last years of psychological self-oppression and the first sweet years of liberation. White's gift for dialogue and anecdote and the melancholy elegance of his prose (often at odds with the spiteful tone the narrator takes) persuade the reader to suspend judgment as the author suspends time, to move with the narrator back and forth between past and deeper past, to delve deeper inside the soul of a man whose spiritual and sexual odysseys chart the development and joyfully confirm the existence of the elusive notion of ""gay sensibility.'' (March)