Monday, January 26, 2015

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

Maybe not the book  to read the week before I turn 45, with all the associated fears of growing older and losing my looks and ending up dying alone and unaccomplished that seem to always accompany my latest birthdays.

I think in 1964, ending up alone and having to hide your gay life from your neighbors, colleagues, and students - save for one or two close and trusted friends - was the product of a homophobic society.  Not so true anymore - I think if Geo were alive and alone today, it would  be more of a choice.  His students would probably know he was gay - and certainly suspect, if he didn't specifically tell them - and very few of them would care one way or the other.  His neighbors, save the rare (and worst kind of) Christian conservative wouldn't shun him because he was gay (we didn't find that to be true in our old suburban neighborhood, and certainly not true in our hipper, more urban neighborhood).  The book is a slice of time in that respect.

But it does still have some resonance when thinking about growing older as a gay man in a culture that exalts youth over middle and old age.  Geo is operating in a world of a culture of youth  that both respects and humors him, maybe even panders to him.  Although the end hints of a relationship to come with Kenny.

I did read Geo as bitter and sad, which made me feel much pity for him, and hopeful that he could eventually find some peace and happiness.  The fact that he had to hide his relationship with Jim and pretend it didn't exist, that was excruciating and sad.  

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A slice of gay time from 1964, but with some implications that can resonate for the 21st century.  You can't separate the "gayness" of the novel - the protagonist is a gay male after all, and the plot centers on his relationships regarding his homosexuality.  But some of what Geo suffered in the 1960s as a closeted gay male doesn't exist in the same way in 2015. I think in early 1960s, ending up painfully alone and having to hide your gay life from your neighbors, colleagues, and students - save for one or two close and trusted friends - was definitely a product of a homophobic society.  Not so true anymore - I think if Geo were alive and alone today, his isolation (and frankly his bitterness) would  be more of a choice (also, he's suffering greatly from grief, which most definitely would heighten his sense of insolation regardless of what time period he was living in).  Today, his students would probably know he was gay - or most certainly would suspect, if he didn't specifically tell them - and very few of them would care one way or the other.  His neighbors, save the rare (and worst kind of) Christian conservative wouldn't shun him or pity him because he was gay either.  But it does still have some resonance when thinking about growing older as a gay male in a culture that exalts youth over middle and old age.  Geo is operating in a world of a culture of youth  that both respects and humors him, maybe even panders to him; if that was starting to become true in 1964 (several years before the youth centered summer of love, Woodstock, etc.), then that's definitely true in the age of selfies and Snapchat.   


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