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Nights in Aruba: A Novel Paperback – December 18, 2001
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About the Author
Andrew Holleran, a Harvard graduate, is a well-known journalist and frequent contributor to major gay publications. Dancer from the Dance, his first novel, was originally published in 1978 to great critical acclaim. He is also the author of Nights in Aruba, The Beauty of Men, Ground Zero, In the Mirror of Men's Eyes, and In September, the Light Changes.
Top Customer Reviews
The book full of truths. Reading it makes one FEEL what it is like to be human, (though from a gay point of view) - and what it means to feel ambivalent, and how the weight of life's uncertainty feels like.
"Dancer from the dance" is Holleran's more successful novel, but I personally preferred "Nights in Aruba".
One of the earlier reviewers trashes the book on the basis that the character does not learn from his experiences - but to this I wish to say that the novel is not a "bildungsroman". I do not think that the book has a bleak outlook to life - rather is depicts one viewpoint (and does so very well) - and shows how and why humans are prone to making the same mistakes and that there is so much existential uncertainty to life.
The book's literary qualities are also such that the book improves with a second reading.
Kudos to Holleran.
Paul commutes between two parallel worlds. He is the dutiful son of aging, upper-middle-class parents living in Florida, and a gay man plunged deliriously into the world of New York City's bars, baths, and one-night stands. Holleran reveals the tragedy and comedy of a man's struggle to come to terms with middle age, homosexuality, truth, love, and life itself.
He longs in vain for a stability and wholeness that neither of his lives provides. So his only moments of peace occur during the plane rides between Newark and Gainesville.
The title refers to the leading character's childhood. His father, a businessman in the oil industry, is stationed on that tiny island off the coast of Venezuela. His mother, so accustomed to society life in Chicago or New York or Boston, comes to rely on her son for companionship and entertainment and unquestioning love. Whereas his kind, hard-working father rises and retires early, his mother sits up late telling him stories, smoking cigarettes. Shocked and thrilled by his mother's wickedness, awed and comforted by his father's male authority, the boy takes this isolated, peaceful household as a model of domestic order that he will never be able to replicate in later life.
(However, is there a deeper meaning? – looking for treasure and finding it worthless? Popular belief links Aruba's name with the Spanish phrase "oro huba" which means "there was gold". In fact the Spanish did not find any gold, and regarded Aruba as "valueless". Another possibility is that Aruba's name comes from the Indian word "oruba" which means "well placed ". Yet another possible derivation of the name is from two Carib Indian words "ora" meaning "shell", and "oubao" meaning "island".)
He goes to prep school and college and then, because he has no particular ambition, joins the Army and is sent to Germany, where he begins to grow up (and come out). He ditches his pious Roman Catholicism and gets a crush on a handsome co-worker. His weakness for unexpected glimpses of male beauty, which will transfix him the rest of his days, is what the character fears will prevent him from attaining the domestic order for which he yearns.
One of the army characters muses that being homosexual is a full time business whereas if you marry a woman you can get on with other things in your life like your career.
Whenever he tired of Manhattan, he repairs to a town in Florida called Jasper, where his parents have retired. When the dullness of tending petunias and watching television with his parents makes him want to scream, he races back to New York.
He mentions nothing of his family life to gay friends, and vice versa.
Long after he has established his secret life on St. Mark's Place, his mother asks him, "Are you homosexual?" "No! Of course not," he says angrily and rushes out of the room. The question implies that the mother either already knows or is willing to accept; the response indicates that perhaps the son cannot accept his homosexuality himself. Why not? What is he afraid of? The answer remains, like the religious faith that wanes in him as it waxes in his once-libertine mother, a mystery.
The author was, himself, born in Aruba and was aged 39 when he wrote this so I wonder how much is autobiographical.
Many rate it for its instinctive elegiac tone, which would turn to melancholy and grief in his later work. It is understated with many a nice turn of phrase.