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Unlimited Embrace: a canon of gay fiction, 1945 - 1995

Woodhouse, Reed

6 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 1558491325 / ISBN 13: 9781558491328
Published by University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1998
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x, 338p., introduction, afterword, appendix, notes, index, very good first edition in cloth boards and unclipped dj. Bookseller Inventory # 164925

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Unlimited Embrace: a canon of gay fiction, ...

Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


In this pathbreaking book, a gay literary critic evaluates a half-century of fictional works "by, for, and about" homosexual men and situates them in the context of an emerging American gay culture. Reed Woodhouse shows how the best gay fiction of the period, like all good literature, not only reflected but anticipated social changes that were afoot -- from the founding of the first enduring gay rights organizations through the Stonewall riots to the ambiguous mainstreaming of homosexuality that continues today. Written in a personal voice, Unlimited Embrace is as much about gay identity as about gay literature. The canon Woodhouse constructs is not merely a list of gay books worth reading, but a guide to "leading a good life as a gay man" as well. In the fiction of Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Christopher Isherwood, James Purdy, Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, Larry Kramer, Ethan Mordden, Dennis Cooper, David Leavitt, and Neil Bartlett, Woodhouse finds intimate glimpses of lives previously veiled in euphemism, slander, and contempt and now striving to take new form. More than that, he raises questions about sexual identity and desire, defiance and wit, that are as relevant to straight readers as to gay ones. Although the book ends with a sober consideration of the literary legacy of AIDS, Unlimited Embrace is more celebration than lament -- an affirmation of the enduring power of literature to shape life.


While gay male literary criticism abounds, much of it is based in the academy and uses the critical perceptions of postmodernism and queer theory to elucidate both popular and literary work. In this context, Reed Woodhouse's Unlimited Embrace shines out like a beacon. Covering work from the 1950s (James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and the short stories of Tennessee Williams) to contemporary novels such as Dennis Cooper's Frisk and Dale Peck's Martin and John, Woodhouse attempts to create a cohesive tapestry out of diverse, imaginative styles, attitudes, and intentions. Such a project is fraught with difficulty, and Woodhouse is careful not to misrepresent or misread specific works to make them fit his theories. The best part of Unlimited Embrace is the author's own exuberance, excitement, and enmity to individual works. Like the film critic Pauline Kael--known for her sharp intelligence and even sharper tongue--Woodhouse is unafraid to venture opinions when he knows they are idiosyncratic or even contrary to "accepted" opinion. Whether praising Dennis Cooper's transgressive narratives over David Leavitt's assimilationist novels, or preferring Samuel Delany's perversely brilliant The Mad Man over Stephen McCauley's popular The Object of My Affection, Woodhouse makes his cases with flair and panache and will delight and infuriate even the most stolid lover of literature. --Michael Bronski

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