Friday, March 13, 2009

James Purdy, 1914-2009


James Purdy has died.

I've only recently discovered Purdy, and he was an extraordinary author. I've reviewed a couple of his books here. As he himself acknowledged, he was never going to be embraced by the mainstream because he refused to bow to convention or play the usual games. As a gay author - particularly in the 50s and 60s - he was out on a limb. But even the gay community wouldn't embrace him, because he wouldn't conform to their stereotypes either. He simply wouldn't play anyone's games and wrote on his own terms. Artistically, that is his legacy, although it means, sadly, that he is a greatly neglected author.

The Nephew is an outstanding work, not least because it deals with homosexuality in such a natural way. Even today, books about gay characters tend to be about GAY characters, and their sexuality is the most important point. In The Nephew, written in the early sixties, Purdy established a fine character who was filled with his own foibles and strengths and interests. Only late in the novel does it even emerge that he was homosexual, and the revelation does not in any way alter the narrative, or our perceptions of him. That is fine writing, and it is greatly to our discredit that, nearly fifty years later, writers - either gay or not - are still failing to follow his naturalistic lead.

He was a fine author, and one who followed his own artistic line. It should have made him better known. As is the way of things, now that he's dead, perhaps it may.

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