A New York Novel
In 1900, Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage (1895), is dying from tuberculosis at the age of 28. At his side is his wife Cora, the former proprietress of a Florida brothel called the Hotel de Dream. Fighting for his every breath, Crane begins to dictate a bizarre novel that he destroyed years before because of its shocking nature. Hotel de Dream alternates between Crane's dying days and his final work, The Painted Boy-about a teenage male prostitute on the streets of New York.
Ecco. 244 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0060852259
NY Times Book Review
"The descriptions of New York's thieves, vagrants and whores have stomach-turning realism. The sordid low-life tableaux are reminiscent of contemporary prose by Stevenson and Conrad (not to mention Crane himself), but White gives us explicit descriptions of the sexual and social deviance that 'real' Victorian novels could only hint at obliquely." Sophie Gee
San Diego Union-Tribune
"Despite many vivid passages with period detail, as historical fiction Hotel de Dream is probably too quirky to fully convince. And not a single sentence in The Painted Boy will be mistaken for Crane's-by now, White's striking prose style is far too distinct to pass as anyone's but his own." Gregory Miller
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The story of the painted boy, implausible at its core, suffers from excess. It is too violent, too perverted, too sadistic. But to be fair to White, he justifies the lack of restraint in this disturbing narrative with the sick state of Crane's mind." Katherine Bailey
"White's style can be lavishly, penetratingly imagistic but also precious. Despite the seedy rooms and back alleys of New York, there's something of the hothouse about this novel, as if homosexuality must be perfumed and coiffed in order to make it more humane." Sam Coale
"[A] fascinating if not entirely satisfying 'fantasia on real themes provided by history.'. . . What White does get right, as the novel intensifies, is the way a mind, intent on telling its truth, makes every effort it can to transcend the boundaries of a failing body." Michael Upchurch
Rumors of Stephen Crane's last, lost work have been around for ages, and they give Edmund White an excellent excuse to practice his well-honed brand of invented history in his 19th novel. Problems arise, however, with the overreaching story within a story. The tale of a country boy turned rent boy may have been shocking at the turn of the last century, but it will raise fewer eyebrows today. And it doesn't do justice to the rich literary talents of Stephen Crane or, for that matter, Edmund White. Luckily, the critics agreed that the gripping, desperate finale of Hotel de Dream contains some of White's best writing and that the depictions of Crane and Cora, plus a cameo of Henry James, are also very well done.