Novelist Caleb Crain asks how gay can a gay novel be and still succeed and the answer seems to be: Not very. After a brief heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, the gay novel has fallen into decline. There aren’t enough gay readers to support it and straight readers tend to be squeamish about gay sex. It was worse in the past, of course. Some of the most telling and touching parts of Crain’s essay concern the changes forced on J.R. Ackerley’s 1960 novel, We Think the World of You. The tale of two men and a dog, the novel is tame by today’s standards but it still freaked Ackerley’s publisher who demanded cuts to innocuous phrases like “I kissed him.” Risible though they were, the cuts changed the tone and meaning of key scenes, and robbed the novel of tenderness. The cuts were restored in the most recent edition of the novel, but the lesson remains: our love can disappear on a whim.
The irony, for an article on gay visibility, is that Crain’s essay is not itself terribly visible. Posted in the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, it’s available on-line, but not in the more prestigious print edition, where his own first novel, Necessary Errors, was lavishly praised only last September.