Edmund V. White is a widely recognised, even revered, literary figure in the U. S. of A., whether among gays themselves or among also a wider reading public. Perhaps he is much less known in the Dominion of Canada than elsewhere in the English- and French-speakig worlds. (White`s Gallophile tastes and his keenly perceptive judgments of French life and culture are appreciated among francophones, who can read translations of many of his works.) Most of his fiction borders has a strong autobiographical element in it, some of it being closer to real memoirs than other suchlike among his books have been. (Of course, not all of White`s literary production is either fiction or memoirs; his theatre works and non-fiction are of some importance, too.)
In "My Lives" White has produced a work which really amounts unambiguously to memoirs, and, at that, of his entire life to its date of writing. White`s somewhat later work, "City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and `70s", also is straighforwardly autobiographical, but, as its title implies, that book limits itself to only some of the years, two decades worth of them, of White`s life.
As for "My Lives" itself, White`s musings and memories as he recounts them therein take as their launching points, in each section of the work, various subjects and, even more, persons or categories of people important in his life, including, hardly surprisingly, in his "sex life" (of the mind and its desires, as well as of the flesh). In "My Lives" White has produced a work which really amounts unambiguously to memoirs, and, at that, of his entire life to its date of writing. Its sections take off upon autobiographical reflections from the standpoint of various subjects and, even more, of persons or categories of people important in his life, including, hardly surprisingly, in his sex life (of the mind and its desires, as well as of the flesh). That sex life always, and, before middle age, White`s social life, too, were, to say the least of it, quite neurotic, in spite of a few assertions here and there in this book to the contrary, and despite White`s ability at times to experience sheer bliss (often intermittantly and all too briefly) with some lovers and happiness with many of his friends. His life, apart from having attained fame and literary respect, is not one that most people really would want to replicate in their own or in that of any beloved family member or friend!
Sometimes in this book, as well as in others that he has authored, White exceeds the boundaries of balance and of good taste in the explicitness of his account of his erotic life and of his lovers and sexual "tricks". (White learned to exercise some restraint in this regard in his 2009 book, "City Boy".) The most egregious example, perhaps, among earlier works, is his somewhat fictionalised account, downright disgustingly sordid most of the time (recounting everything, toilet cruising and all), of the years of his formal education, especially his university years, in "The Beautiful Room Is Empty"; that book is the sequel to his boyhood-based memories about which White wrote in the equally quasi-fictional and rightly best known (and thankfully much less unrelentingly, degradedly frenetic) of his works, "A Boy`s Own Story", which is a genuinely beautiful and sensitive piece of writing about gay childhood and adolescence.
Fortunately, "My Lives" manages to avoid slipping from vivid memories of his sexual adventures merely into outright pornographic writing, though at times barely. White`s exqusite command of writing memorable English always saves him from too much censure in this particular work (as it does in most, but not all, of his books). Certainly, one cannot accuse Edmund White of withholding information from any sense of excessive shame; his revelations, notably about himself, but about others too, especially regarding his own excruciating masochism and self-loathing, can be lacerating.
For all that the book reveals of the unbalanced mind and life of this man, "My Lives" exhibits such beautiful writing, such frequent deft turns of phrase, that the book immensely satisfies the reader for whom beauty of expression and style count for much. This reader has read the book twice, just to be immersed in such gorgeous and felicitous use of the English language. On that plane, and on others, too, the book is immensely satisfying to read.