cover image A Previous Life

A Previous Life

Edmund White. Bloomsbury, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63557-727-3

White (A Saint from Texas) offers an erotically charged and ingenious metafictional story of a married couple. In 2050, 70-something Sicilian musician Ruggero Castelnuovo agrees, with his 30-year-old American wife, Constance, to break the silence about their pasts. Three decades earlier, Ruggero had an affair with Edmund White, who was in his 80s at the time. Ruggero and Constance read their memoirs aloud in alternate passages, and each welcomes their newfound revelations. Ruggero fears that despite his international reputation in the music world he’ll only be remembered as “the man who ruined Edmund White’s life” (what he means by that will come out later). Constance tells of a gay suitemate at Princeton, two failed marriages to older men (robbed by her first husband; humiliated by her second). As their confessions unroll, they reckon with the shadow of age and redefine their relationship, culminating in life-changing decisions. Through it all, the author hands his characters indelible lines to express their self-knowledge, which often yield insights on gender fluidity and sexuality (“it was the part you played that determined your identity, not the gender of your partner,” Ruggero tells Constance, explaining an episode of role play). It adds up to a dizzyingly enticing and kaleidoscopic take on the spectrum of sexual experiences. (Jan.)