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Jack Holmes and His Friend: A Novel Hardcover – January 17, 2012

3.2 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“In tender prose, White does justice to the erotic potential of the story, with abundant and charged descriptions of sex. Switching between Jack's point of view and Will's, White shows each man as he perceives himself and as he is perceived by his friend. The result is not just ironic, it is an elegant study of the paradoxes and half-truths that emerge in long-standing friendships.” ―The New Yorker

“Taken together, [Jack's and Will's] stories form a deep and powerful picture of love, desire, affection, rejection and despair in a great American city about to become writhen with AIDS. In passage after passage… novelist White proves himself to be the finest practitioner of making explicit and deliciously accurate sentences about sexual coupling, straight and gay… In chapter after chapter, White proves himself to be one of the finest practitioners of angst-ridden scene making about people in love with desire and desirous for real love.” ―Alan Cheuse, NPR's "All Things Considered"

“[In] Jack Holmes and His Friend White delivers something rare…this novel, because of its relentlessly tight focus, its obsession with the physical aspects of sexuality, could be said to be lighter or shallower than White's earlier ones, but this is wrong. For Jack Holmes and his friend, the realm of the body is the city they inhabit together, fellow libertines and explorers in a concrete place free of illusory deception. Inhabiting a body could be said to be the essential truth of being, the animal experience shared by us all. And the body never lies.” ―Kate Christensen, New York Times Book Review

“Surprising, funny and clever…White fixes his lens closely on [Jack and Will], and the relationship's strange unevenness, ebbing and flowing from decade to decade, provides a feeling of authenticity and nuance to its investigation of gay-straight male friendship…Jack Holmes is filled with White's wonderful knack for metaphor…an absorbing and worthwhile read.” ―Adam Eaglin, San Francisco Chronicle

“In its best moments Jack Holmes allows Jack and Will to look in on one another’s lives with curiosity and openness, engaging in pages-long dialogue about the nature of sex, love and friendship…[White is] adept at showing how relationships, especially in New York, city of ambition, are rarely disinterested―it’s this last insight, in particular, that makes Jack’s continued love for Will all the more poignant.” ―New York Observer

“White’s book embraces a classic love story, but it is much more: It offers something of a cultural history of gay life in New York in the closeted era before Stonewall. In the sometimes facetious, sometimes mutually uncomprehending, sometimes blazingly intelligent interplay of people of all sorts… White’s narrative is sometimes reminiscent of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories―which is no small praise… One of the best novelists at work today, White spins an entangling―and thoroughly entertaining―yarn.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“The achievement of the book is that Edmund White largely pulls off this timeline of our lifetime and the history of the gay rights movement… That he tells his tale honestly, simply, and with dry eyes, in a work that neither stoops to the political dialectic or the screaming screed stands as a testament to Mr. White's skill as an author… All this is quite a nifty achievement for [White], who writes as Max Steiner composed movie soundtracks, giving his work an underpinning of lush tremolo. This lush nature of his work is so very potent… It's not just what he's writing, it's the way the man writes it.” ―New York Journal of Books

“With a leisurely pace that allows his characters to breathe and grow and the reader to make their acquaintance in complete terms, and with the rich, precise style that has distinguished his prose for two decades, White follows the course of the friendship between [Jack and Will]…A well-drawn story that also serves as an important reconstruction of a time and situation important in the evolution of gay social acceptance.” ―Booklist

“A fine, wise and necessary new novel… White has managed to whip up a bittersweet Nabokovian capriccio…it is a genuine page-turner… White's keen insights into the dark Eros and messy psychodynamics of frustrated sexual desire, both straight and gay, and sociology are woven seamlessly into his rich, sensuously imagined narrative.” ―Gay and Lesbian Review

“[White's] prose is always most alive when it sneaks underneath the sheets. In Jack Holmes & His Friend, White is in top form.” ―Entertainment Weekly

“Jack Holmes serves… as yet another indelible―another articulate and articulated―White homage to New York City―one that is very deeply, very personally concerned with history… Fortunately for us, the many hours and the many days of reading Edmund White’s thoughts (28 books in 39 years!) do not pass slowly. They pass, rather, as fleetingly―and as satisfyingly―as a New York nanosecond.” ―Lambda Literary Review

“Read Jack Holmes & His Friend now...With the Big Apple as the unrelenting, ever-changing setting, NY-based novelist Edmund White explores their unconventional friendship that spans from the quiet before the tumult of the '60s through the era of free love...Told with healthy doses of humor (we promise), the novel explores the seldom written-about friendship between gay and straight men.” ―Daily Candy

“Arguably [White's] greatest [novel] yet… While the themes of friendship, sexual awakening and unrequited love may be typical, White's handling of them is anything but... Equally [a] historical novel and [a] contemporary commentary.” ―Gay San Diego

About the Author

Edmund White is the author of many novels, including A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, The Farewell Symphony, and, most recently, Hotel de Dream. His nonfiction includes City Boy and other memoirs; The Flâneur, about Paris; and literary biographies and essays. White lives in New York and teaches at Princeton.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; F First Edition edition (January 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608197034
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608197033
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,053,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edmund White has said that fiction should be a gift to the reader. David Ebershoff believes that White's latest novel JACK HOLMES & HIS FRIEND is his best novel. I agree completely with Mr. Ebershoff-- having read all of the author's previous fiction except FANNY: A FICTION and CARACOLE: A NOVEL-- and found the novel indeed to be a gift from Mr. White. The book is long (390 pages although it seems shorter), and covers decades of the friendship of Jack Holmes ("a tall rangy guy with stomach muscles as hard as a turtle's shell," dirty blond hair and an endowment that fascinates both men and women), and Will Wright, an often unkempt straight man but who always wears expensive shoes that he polishes himself, an "Adonis badly damaged by the elements." The two men meet where they are both employed by the publisher of a magazine in New York and begin an unlikely friendship that jumps and sputters over decades. Wright, like so many straight men, at first feels "cornered, obviously wishing it would all just go away" when Jack blurts out to him that he is in love with him. Although Jack goes through many men and Will marries the woman Jack introduces him to, the two men remain friends.

JACK HOLMES is of course about friendship, the differences between gay and straight men (Will has always had someone to pick up after him unlike Jack who like many gay men is not competitive, for example) and, as Will opines near the end of the novel, "'in the end that's all anyone has, family.'"

Mr. White's writing as always is urbane, sophisticated and as dense as Henry James' or his writer friend Alan Hollinghurst`s.
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Format: Hardcover
Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White is quite a good book. I found myself engrossed in the lives of Jack and his friend Will as the author takes us through several decades of their friendship. The book opens around 1960 and goes through the onset of AIDs in the 1980's. It is primarily about a friendship between two men, one straight and the other gay.

Jack is originally from the Midwest. He attends the University of Michigan and then goes to New York City after graduation. He attains a job at The Northern Review when he is 23 years old and there he meets Will who he befriends almost instantaneously. "What he wanted and needed was a buddy, a guy his own age, a masculine guy who didn't look at you penetratingly and size you up. A buddy who would share with you his interest in books or old movies or fine sports writing." Jack is in the process of coming out at a time when most homosexuals are closeted and fearful.

Jack immediately develops a crush on Will which turns to love. He is deeply and desperately in love with Will who does not have a homosexual bone in his body. Will is emotionally rather flat and physically inexpressive. Jack tries to imagine that some day he and Will will be together. "Will looked so sexy and Jack wanted him so badly that it was hard to imagine the feeling wasn't mutual." Despite his loving Will, "sometimes Jack wondered if he'd like Will if he didn't love him". The reality is that their being together will never happen.
Jack has a lot of problems coming to terms with his sexuality at first. He tries to rationalize by saying to himself, "It wasn't that he was queer; he just loved Will". He "preferred daydreaming about the life he might lead with Will to having a real affair...
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Format: Hardcover
The main idea of the book has been described by others. The gay character, Jack, draws heavily on White's autobiography, which lends some depth. The straight character (Will) seems less deep and even the use of Will as narrator doesn't overcome this shortcoming. Instead, it exacerbates the tendency of the book to tell us what's going on in the relationship and with him, rather than showing us (noted by a previous reviewer). A number of plot turns seem driven by White's tics (the over the top voyeurism that breaks the relationship at one point; White likes to give a little too much information) or by nothing at all (e.g., Will's infidelity after an idyllic trip with his wife). White is at his strongest at the beginning of the relationship. He recreates a version of New York that recently has gotten a lot of attention via "Mad Men", a golden era just before the "bad old days of crime and filth". That was the New York that White entered from the Midwest. It probably is the New York that remains most vivid to him. Will may or may not be based on an actual person, but comes across as a bit one dimensional by comparison with Jack and their setting. In later years, he seems more like a contemporary metrosexual half his age than someone of his era. If he had spent his adult life in a gay milieu rather than as a somewhat socially closed-off straight guy, this would have been more believable. More than most writers, White seems to have difficulty inhabiting characters that either aren't part of his autobiography or aren't well documented (as in the case of his nonfiction). OTOH, he is skilled in describing place and context, although he rushes a bit with the later years of the book.

At its best, the book is an interesting often pleasant walk through a friendship and the New York of the early 1960s.
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