cover image Chaos: A Novella and Stories

Chaos: A Novella and Stories

Edmund White, . . Carroll & Graf, $21.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-78672-005-7

The title novella from novelist, memoirist and biographer White (Genet , etc.) turns on the guilt that gay novelist Jack, 66, feels about not visiting his dying friend Helene in Paris, and on Jack's obsession with Seth, 28, a charmless ex-Mormon sex bomb. Not much happens in "Chaos": financially strapped Jack and Seth (a "total top") meet on Craig's List and fall into a ritual where Jack pays Seth $120 for the pleasure of sucking Seth off. (White told a nearly identical story of obsession just last year in his much praised memoir My Lives , where the episode is titled "My Master.") Of the stories, only "Record Time" shines: it records what it was like to be 13 in small-town 1953, starved for culture, reduced to listening over and over to opera recordings on ancient 78s. The narrator recalls the excitement of going alone to a distant town for a screening of Cukor's famous Camille , taking the evening train home after a rain. Here the writing is thrilling, evocative, with a magic missing elsewhere in the collection. Despite that high point, even White's fans might feel entitled to sit this one out. (June)