Andrew Holleran’s New Story in Granta Reminds Us of All the Literature We Lost

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 30 2013 10:29 AM

Andrew Holleran’s New Story in Granta and the Gay Literature We Lost

A new building goes up along the Hudson River in New York City. Miles, a character in Andrew Holleran’s new short story, refuses to leave Manhattan, and his last hope for affordable housing is a hotel along the Hudson.
A new building goes up along the Hudson River in New York City.Miles, a character in Andrew Holleran’s new short story, refuses to leave Manhattan, and his last hope for affordable housing is a hotel along the Hudson.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Andrew Holleran, the author most notably of Dancer From the Dance, has a story in the latest issue of Granta, and while new work by a major gay writer is always a cause for celebration, “There’s a Small Hotel” is especially interesting, because it’s a link to the past.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

“There’s a Small Hotel” is an odd, atmospheric story in which an unnamed narrator returns to New York and finds himself torn between the pull of nostalgia and a need to return to his “real” life elsewhere. He ponders the appeal of urban hotels, checks into one, and reconnoiters with Miles, a once-beautiful ex-lover, now destroyed by illness, addictions, and poverty. Although he is virtually destitute, Miles refuses to leave Manhattan. His last hope for affordable housing is the Riverview, a run-down hotel on the Hudson River, which the two men visit together. The place reminds the narrator of New York’s long-gone bathhouses, and he tells Miles he should flee to the outer boroughs—or even New Jersey—rather than stay there. Yet somehow, after bidding farewell to his old friend, the narrator is tempted back to the Riverview himself.

Advertisement

The story is an exercise in observation, so summarizing the plot might seem reductive or even cruel, but I do so because certain elements of it seem to be in direct dialogue with “Nostalgia for the Mud,” an article Holleran wrote for the gay literary magazine Christopher Street sometime between 1976 and 1983. (I came across “Nostalgia” in The Christopher Street Reader, an anthology that appeared in 1983, but the collection doesn’t indicate when the story first appeared in the magazine.)

In that thirtysomething-year-old magazine article, Holleran ponders—just as obliquely and inconclusively as he does in “There’s a Small Hotel”—some fundamental questions of gay life, including, “Why do gays love ruins?” “Why do we rush out to trick after talking to our mothers on the telephone? Why do we find graduate students from Princeton lying facedown in the Mineshaft? … Why our desire to grovel, to wallow in the slime?”

Those questions aren’t answered in the piece—at least not directly. Despite being cultured, witty, and gay, the men refuse, or are unable, to do so. They can’t articulate the draw of the mud, but nor can they deny it. At the end of the piece, they’re down among the rotted piers of the warehouse district, preparing to enter a dark, forbidding bar full of stone-faced men.

The narrator of the Granta story is clearly older than the cultured chaps of “Nostalgia for the Mud” (though it’s hard to tell exactly what time period the new story is set in—the narrator repeatedly refers to “a Negro,” and the now-shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital is still open), but in setting and theme, it marks a return to the seedy properties along the Hudson and the draw of the depraved.

It’s impossible to know if this narrator is one of the men who debated the attraction of slumming it so long ago, but he clearly feels that same pull. At the end of the story, he returns to the depressing Riverview, and the memories it stirs up, but on the threshold, he turns away and heads to the train station, relieved to have escaped. Unlike poor, destroyed Miles, who can’t say goodbye to Manhattan, he will outlive the city.

Of course, these echoes would be far less remarkable were it not for the tragic loss of so many great gay writers to AIDS. Although some of the men anthologized in The Christopher Street Reader are sill alive and writing, notably Edmund White and Martin Duberman, contributors like John Preston and Randy Shilts succumbed to AIDS, as did so many other writers of that generation—including Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Charles Ludlam, Essex Hemphill, and Paul Monette.

It’s wonderful that Andrew Holleran keeps returning to the ideas that fascinate him, to explore how they change as he—and his characters—age. What’s tragic is that so few gay writers of his generation are around to do so. 

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 5:47 PM California Gov. Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrant for Police Surveillance Drones
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.