Memorialization, like elegy, is a sign that something has been destroyed


Edmund White, who captured late-20th-century gay New York in his acclaimed autobiographical trilogy, has now written a novel about desire and betrayal in the New York of the late 19th century. The protagonist of “Hotel de Dream” is the American writer Stephen Crane, who at 28 is dying from tuberculosis in the English countryside. Stevie, as friends call him, lies on his deathbed, struggling to dictate a scandalous novella about a boy prostitute whom he met several years earlier. His amanuensis is his wife, Cora, herself the former proprietor of a brothel in Jacksonville named Hotel de Dream. Cora is foolish, vulgar, tender and perceptive by turns, and her ministration to the dying Crane gives White a frame narrative for this vivid and powerful novel.

The impetus for the book, White explains in a postface, is a surviving prose fragment by Crane’s friend, the critic James Gibbons Huneker, describing a chance meeting between the pair and a syphilitic New York street kid. Disgusted but fascinated, Crane began a novel about male prostitution and New York street life called “Flowers of Asphalt.” The opening of the novel was, according to Huneker, “the best passage of prose that Crane ever wrote,” but no trace of it remains, and White himself, following other scholars, raises the question of whether Crane really ever did write it.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.