Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White

Beginning in the 1960s, Jack and Will become friends in New York City while working drudge jobs at a small specialty magazine.  Jack is a likeable Midwesterner who early on questions his sexuality.  He falls in love with Will in the process, and never completely gets over his infatuation, even as Will marries and moves away from the city and Jack.  The book follows their diverging lives through the swinging era of the 60s and 70s to the advent of AIDs in the early 80s.

Ironically, Jack introduces Will to his future wife Alex, a debutante friend of Jack’s.  Will and Alex don’t get along at first, but find their common ground quickly, marry, and have a not-so-precious life in the suburbs.  Jack becomes a man about town, a socialite of sorts who revels in the possibilities of the early gay liberation era.  Jack and Will meet again ten years later, when Will and Alex have two children and Will is getting extremely restless of domesticity.  Needless to say, their marriage is tested sorely, as Will cheats on Alex and discovers a freewheeling life that he is loath to give up, until the sobering possibility of a new and incurable disease changes things drastically for both men.

This was my first reading of an Edmund White book.  Jack Holmes and His Friend clicks along nicely, with sections alternating between Jack’s world (in the third person) and Will’s (a first person narrative).  White is pretty brazen with the sexual content, but the story holds up well and frames the times that were a-changin’ – the craziness that was the 60s and 70s, with New York City as the epicenter.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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