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Edmund White's new novel, "Jack Holmes and His Friend", is the story of a long-term friendship between two men, one straight and one gay. The story, told in two voices - one in the third person and the other's Jack's friend Will Wright. The story - set in New York City - moves forward in time from the late 1950's/early 1960's to the late 1970's/early 1980's and finally to the mid 1990's (Princess Diana is mentioned so I presume it's before her death).

Jack Holmes is a young man-on-the-move, attends the University of Michigan after spending years in a boarding school. The story of his home life is somewhat murky, but he appears not to have been close to his parents. At the time the reader meets Jack, he's in college and trying to figure out his sexual preferences. Is he straight? Is he gay? Or is he somewhere in the middle? He graduates from college and moves to New York to begin a career in publishing. He has friends and acquaintances, but in general he is somewhat aloof from his surroundings. At his first job - "The Northern Review" (meant to be "The Paris Review", I think) - he meets another young man, Will Wright, who has also come to New York City to seek his fame as a writer. Jack is gay and Will is straight and Jack has a life-long crush on Will.

But Jack introduces Will to another friend, Alexandra, and the two fall in love and marry and move to the suburbs. The friendship between Jack and Will enters a period of hibernation, which ends when the three meet up again. Will, by this time the father of two children with Alex, is bored with his life and is in the mood for a sexual dalliance. Jack "fixes" Will up with another friend, Pia, and she and Will begin an affair. The affair continues with Alex none the wiser, until Will decides to return to Alex and his children, but then moves out again to live the life of a bachelor. Meanwhile, Jack has been in and out of relationships and has not found a partner. This second part of the book ends in 1980 or so, with the term "Gay Related Immune Deficiency" (GRID) entering society's consciences and helping to end several decades of casual sexual behavior - again, both gay and straight.

Okay, there are a lot of sex scenes - gay and straight - in Edmund White's book. Most are quite graphic but none is gratuitous. A couple of months ago I read and reviewed for VINE a new novel by Richard Mason, "History of a Pleasure Seeker". I wrote that I found the sex scenes - and again there were many and both straight and gay - boring, for the most part. I look back at "History" and see a book written in a straight line with every now and again a graphic sex scene thrown in to make the book more interesting. In White's book, the sex scenes are part of the terrain of the plot. They are essential to the nuance of both the plot and characters and the book would be emptier without them.

Edmund White has written a wonderful novel about men and the way that friendship and longing make relationships - both sexual and non-sexual - provide ties between them. It's also a brilliant look at the places and times of the mid-to-late 20th century.
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