Edmund White's 'Beautiful Room' is a moving, wonderful story, crafted around the late teens to late twenties of the narrator, known only as 'Bunny' to his friend Lou, one of the many lively, memorable characters encountered along the way, as well as Tex, a flaboyant bookstore owner, who gives 'Bunny' his earliest education in 'gay slang.'
'Bunny', at the beginning of the novel, is a prep-school student coming to terms with his homosexuality, by engaging in anonymous sexual encounter after encounter in the boy's bathrooms, where his lovers are seen only from waistline to knees. He dresses and plays the part of the dutiful prep school student by day, but once class is out, he drifts toward the bohemians, gracing the coffee shops of their 1950's and 60's lives, watching them paint, sharing their surrealist literature and poetry, and secretly lusting after the males. A child of divorced parents, his father determined to make a man out of him, his mother convinced that all he needs is a cure, the narrator carries us along on his ride, meeting many notable characters along the way, that shape and influence his gradual acceptance that he is gay.
Following his school years, when he enters the work force and the real world, the words of a school-friend come back to haunt him, that 'some day he will have too much freedom,' freedom to choose where he goes, what he does, and who he is. He drifts along from job to job, from lover to lover, Lou, Fred, and the frequent pick-ups from Christoper Street, until he meets Sean, a closeted young man who leads 'Bunny' to question his own identity as they both enter group therapy to try and overcome their 'illness' and go straight, with very different results.
Culminating at the famous Stonewall site, Edmund White provides readers with a grand tour-de-force of growing up gay in the 50's and 60's in Chicago and New York.
Sometimes poignant, sometimes emotional, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, 'Beautiful Room' is a beautiful book, with a beautiful story to tell. The narrator, presumably White himself, as the book is supposed to be autobiographical, slips from identity to identity as he tries to find his own. Young and unsure of himself, he tries to be what everyone else wants him to be until he finds himself.
Although this story centers on a gay man, the book speaks volumes to anyone struggling to find their own identity, and the choices and mistakes we all make along the way.