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Chaos: A Novella and Stories Hardcover – May 22, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The title novella from novelist, memoirist and biographer White (Genet, etc.) turns on the guilt that gay novelist Jack, 66, feels about not visiting his dying friend Helene in Paris, and on Jack's obsession with Seth, 28, a charmless ex-Mormon sex bomb. Not much happens in "Chaos": financially strapped Jack and Seth (a "total top") meet on Craig's List and fall into a ritual where Jack pays Seth $120 for the pleasure of sucking Seth off. (White told a nearly identical story of obsession just last year in his much praised memoir My Lives, where the episode is titled "My Master.") Of the stories, only "Record Time" shines: it records what it was like to be 13 in small-town 1953, starved for culture, reduced to listening over and over to opera recordings on ancient 78s. The narrator recalls the excitement of going alone to a distant town for a screening of Cukor's famous Camille, taking the evening train home after a rain. Here the writing is thrilling, evocative, with a magic missing elsewhere in the collection. Despite that high point, even White's fans might feel entitled to sit this one out. (June)
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"From the first few pages, I was ready to give myself over to his wanderings, just to find out where he would go next....Edmund White tells such a good story that I'm ready to listen to anything he wants to talk about."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Running Press; First Edition edition (May 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786720050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786720057
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,863,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edmund White in his novella CHAOS covers much of the material he wrote about in his recent MY LIVES: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY so it's probably safe to assume that some of this story is autobiographical. Jack is 66, teaches at a university, is more in demand for blurbs he writes for other writers' books -- although since his computer crashed, he often has to ask for their last names-- occasionally gets one of his old novels translated, and spends a lot of his time worrying about his dwindling income and his eternal quest for sex. He of course is attracted to men 40 years his junior and prefers Craig's List rather than Silverdaddies as a source for finding them. He is willing to pay for sex; he mets Seth, a tall, blond Mormon with aspirations of being a writer and has no problem dishing out over a hundred dollars for each session with him even after they become friends. Then there is a young Italian, etc., etc., etc. Jack lives for "a cultural life, good food and a supply of available men." He, however, is also a good friend, perhaps the saving grace of this man with a truly chaotic life, particularly to his friend Marie-Helene who is diagnosed with cancer.

Regardless of whether or not you sympathize with White's characters, you have to marvel at his language. His prose can be as dense as anything Henry James wrote and as transparent as the writing of Truman Capote. His description of memory loss, particularly forgetting names, is both scary and sounds too familiar: "He made lists of things to do but forgot to consult them. Nothing yet was completely lost, but he had to write down his appointments right away or they would escape him an hour after he'd worked them out in detail and he'd have to make a humiliating second call ('Did we say Tuesday at three?' 'No, a week from Thursday at four.').
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edmund White remains one of the reigning masters of committing the English language into models of communication in his intelligent, witty, wise, and compassionate novels. While some critics and admirers tend to place CHAOS: A NOVELLA AND STORIES in a lesser important ring of his work, for this reader this book works on every level. Yes, some of the ideas on which the stories are based have been the nidus for other of his more famous works, the current work (especially CHAOS) has polished the atmosphere of the plight of the aging gay man to a jewel-like presence. Reading Edmund White is as much a pleasure of the joy of reading superb prose, as it is an entry into the fascinating lives of his created characters.

In 'Chaos' we meet Jack, a man whose once successful life as a writer afforded him the luxuries of satisfying his physical needs at will. Now, his career careening down toward desperation, Jack finds his gratification in hiring men for sex. His 'employees' include a strangely assembled ex-Mormon lad named Seth and an Italian club dancer Giuseppe, both of whom, while fond of Jack's kindness and patronage, always demand cash on the line, no matter the frequency of their daily episodes with Jack. Jack's cultural needs are played out in fascinating asides, moments when the intellect must emerge and steal the podium from sensuality. And it is precisely in these moments that White exercises his facility with the language. 'Both statements were more or less true, but these half-shades became startlingly emphatic colors only because it was easier to write declarations than nuances - and sentences, once awakened on the page, began to rattle and writhe in their own direction, dangerous and hissing and no longer submissive to meaning'.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stephen F. Shetler on August 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've been a fan of Edmund White ever since States of Desire which I received as a gift at a surprise birthday party when I was much younger and starting to come out. As is sometimes the case, Chaos is not an easy read, not only because of Edmund White's superior command of language, but also because he captures the truth of middle-aged gay men of my generation so well. I found myself wondering how much of what I was reading was reflective of the author and those he has known in his life and how much was from his imagination. Regardless, the book felt honest and accurate, even though fiction.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lester W. Miller on March 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read novels related to the gay male experience pretty voraciously. I think Edmund White is my single favorite writer. His prose is so perfectly executed that the books fly by too quickly.

He really made me laugh with this novella (the other stories are nice, but not quite the same). I share many of his foibles and obsessions, although what he considers economic stress would feel stable to me.

The clearly autobiographically-based writing continues in this novella, and he's very funny in this one about failing memories and repeating elements of stories, more or less shrugging them off.

His writing is like good ballet - only through his years of reading and study of the art of literary writing can he make it look so easy. I almost wish it were harder to read and I'm tempted to reread all his autobiographical "fiction" just for the pleasure. I would argue he is one of our relatively few real "men of letters."
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