This is a book of short stories; all of them have a same-sex content.
The tone is, again, predominantly melancholy, though protagonists find consoling, even healing “resolutions”. They are all have dangerous content; or, if it takes a lot to shock you, merely unconventional.
Two stories attracted me, especially; and one grabbed me by the throat.
“Contentment” involves Richard meeting Gabriel. Gabriel is a rent-boy who works from his squalid flat, where he lives with his mother. After a commercial encounter with Richard, with the mother in the next room,Richard feels some kind of completion; or, at the very least, consolation as “rested his head on Gabriel’s shoulder, nibbled his neck and lay back content”; for now, anyway, he has got what he needs, whether he has had to pay for it or not.Arditti excels in these equivocal encounters.
“Isolation Ward” had me engulfed in tears.Lawrence has AIDS, he is dying; and his mother and brother come to visit him, in hospital, with only the latter knowing of his real illness. At first, Lawrence’s brother is afraid to touch him; but, re-assured by the nurse,”Jack leant over the bed and cradled his brother”. His mum,finding out , only now, as her son is dying, and acknowledging to herself the truths that he is gay AND dying of AIDS,finds that “her tears seemed to reach beyond her heart to a place buried deep within her womb”. This is no cheap “sentimentality” but on-the-edge situations and writing that refuses to spare the reader. All of the stories have this element.
Arditti is a respected writer.He is interesting because, whilst his grand-canvas novels, like “Easter” are fairly obviously universal in application, this book is full of situations which are much more likely to arise in the gay subculture(camp comedian, the very specific nature of the stigma of hIV/AIDs to gay men, and the concomitant complications with their families, for example, coming out issues). But they ARE, AT THE SAME TIME, universal; because we can all EXTRAPOLATE beyond the confines of our own experiences to very different ones, OUTWARDLY different ones anyway. Its the kind of book which would be labelled “extreme or shocking for the sake of it”,but it isnt-its just humanity in all its neediness, desire, death, love, wish for acceptance.So its a gay or, same-sex affect, book of short stories but it also does what ANY novel or short story should(in fact, any piece of creative writing): reaches out to EVERYONE, if they would just let the barriers down and let themselves in to this world that Arditti delineates so movingly.