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[61] In September, The Light Changes – Andrew Holleran

In September, The Light Changes is a collection of 16 short stories that with such literary erudition and keen prose capture the melancholy and meditation on mortality in the context of autumnal reminiscences. The fact that Holleran wrote these stories over 20 years’ period renders a taste of gay life over changing times.

The stories might be heartrending to read at times but through his acute social vision and his elegant prose we can all, one way or another, identify ourselves and relate to his unforgettable characters. Who are so true to life in facing medical challenges, in dealing with loss of love, in being so obsessed with pumping the iron, and in scouring the bars. Most, if not all, of the stories take place during the changing fortune from the 70s to 80s, with vivid delineations of bar scenes, ominously shadowed by the looming epidemic.

One story reminds me that despite the recent advance of gay right on the battleground of marriage (civil union), society, bound by the inveterate heterosexual values, still treats the gays with straight standards. (Who cares what straight people think about us? … The only reason what we do interests them is because they’re so deeply bored.)

Another story, one that is so close to my heart that I can put myself in the character’s shoe, explores what it means to want someone so much that you would do anything not to be banished from his presence, even if the love is unrequisited and your future will be forfeited.

One story meditates on how a man deems sex the most important thing in life—that he would only take temporary job in order to pursue these no-strings-attached flings, encounters, escapades, and whatever-you-wish-to-call sexual relationships. Careers and family responsibility leave no vestige on him. Life to him is not defined by success nor failure. Not until reaching the encroaching middle age did he realize he had lost his lost chance to make a connection with another human being. The dominations of sex in gay life began to distress him.

One of the most heart-breaking stories owes the grief not to parting upon death but to the character’s forlorn scope in find love. He is poignantly preoccupied with failed love—that he always assumes he would be dumped. He was in a standby mode to take the blow of relationship failure.

Another story delivers the blunt but sad truth about the ones endowed with GQ looks: They are eye candies, good to look at but be aware not to be too serious with them. Some people are worth loving; some are perfect. These people are rare, of course, and they almost never happen to love you in return (unrequisited, non-reciprocate love is such a bitch), but they do exist. What’s even more demoralizing, we have to admit that most of the time people who go out looking for love end up with sex instead.

Another story takes up a slightly critical voice and contrives to steer the gay community back to the right direction of evolution. Instead of finding new ways to relate to one another, or progressing in humanity (in Holleran’s words), we regard each other as nothing but fantasies, always fear of commitment, and always fail to integrate sex with the rest of our lives. (We’re just going to keep on going to gyms and dance clubs, taking drugs, dancing, cruising bars, and playing games.)

Finally, in one of the gloomiest piece of writings, Holleran gives us someone whose incurable disease has irretrievably plunged him into depression, along with the chasm of his own personality. His whole life had been condemned by his family in his hometown—part of the reason he chose to live a life of recluse in Amsterdam nearing death’s threshold. He is ready to let go of his teetering social life as he thinks everyone who takes pity on him is being condescending.

Pick up a copy of In September, The Light Changes and start reading. You’ll see yourself in at least one of the stories. It’s a sobering book.

5 Responses

  1. Hey Matt…

    I wish I was more of a reader so I couuld comment more frequently on book topics. But alas I am not. A gene I lack.

    Have a great holiday season.

  2. Joshua walked 3 blocks to B&N to get this book, so he said at Gay Men Rule.

    You’ve got a plate full on you Tony. But I always enjoy reading your comment. 🙂

  3. Matt–I read Holleran’s “The Beauty of Men” years ago and loved it! Thanks for the tip–I’ll look for this one, too.

  4. I enjoy your blog so much, especially the book reviews, being a bookworm that I am! Glad to find you, I mean, your blog!

  5. […] E.M. Forster. Some of my favorites that are not on this list are The Spell by Alan Hollinghurst, In September the Light Changes (short stories) by Andrew Holleran, and The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell. Patrick Gale, who has […]

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