Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel
by Edmund White
"The boy stumbled and I caught his cold little hand in my bony paw. His eyes swam and floated up into his head; he fainted. NowI'm as frail as he was, but back then I was fit. I carried him into the Everett House." (p 13-14)
The story of Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel is one of two pairs of lovers, Stephen Crane and his wife Cora and the young prostitute Elliott and his lover Theodore the Banker, who are products of Stephen Crane's literary imagination. In this novel Crane is writing a companion piece to his earlier novel, Maggie, Girl of the Streets, and it is this novel, The Painted Boy, that occupies Crane as he slowly succumbs to the ravages of tuberculosis. What is fascinating is the seamless way that White is able to meld the stories of Crane's life and Crane's writing. Sections of The Painted Boy are interspersed throughout the novel as Crane dictates it to his wife Cora. The description of the young boy of the streets, Elliott is both moving and heartbreaking as he loses his childhood in an attempt to simply survive. Yet no less moving is the image of Stephen Crane as his life slowly fades away:
"Stephen felt his life force flickering, no more than a candle about to blow out, and his whole pained body hovering around this fragile blue light. His mind still registered odd details, and he knew his lips were working though no sound was coming out. His body was wracked with pain. Pain was all he knew."(p 123)
In an inter textual delight for the reader Crane is a character both in White's novel, as journalist studying the boy, and in the novel he is writing within Hotel de Dream. It reminds me of a favorite novel of mine, The Counterfeiters, by Andre Gide, wherein the protagonist Edouard is writing a novel titled The Counterfeiters, thus making Gide's tale a novel within a novel. White is using a modern approach to the novel to tell an apparently authentic fin de siecle tale.
He almost successful since I have difficulties with the somewhat melodramatic ending; yet the reader is drawn along by the atmospheric seediness of turn-of-the century Manhattan as it is contrasted with the quiet, ironically idyllic, countryside of England where Stephen passes his final days with Cora. There is an injection of realism from visits by Henry James and Joseph Conrad that add to the book's milieu. I found White's prose elegant and his realization of Crane's novel within the novel believable. The contrasting portraits of passion and pain help make this novel a gem. It makes me want to explore more of both writers in the near future.
Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel by Edmund White. Ecco Press, New York, 2007.
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