As an epigraph to his new book, Edmund White quotes from Gide’s The Counterfeiters: ‘Nothing happens to me that I don’t put into it – everything I see, everything I know.’ Few contemporary novelists have mined their lives so exhaustively as White, most notably in the autobiographical trilogy that begins with A Boy’s Own Story, in which the protagonist’s progress from Midwestern isolation to Manhattan hedonism is presented as that of an American ‘Everygay’.
In 2005 White published an autobiography, My Lives, which in its graphic sexual description was either courageous in its candour or embarrassing in its exhibitionism, according to taste. It seemed as if the seam of personal experience had been exhausted, and he turned to idiosyncratic historical fiction with Hotel de Dream and Fanny. However, he returns to predominantly autobiographical themes in Chaos, a collection of five stories and the titular novella.
The novella focuses on Jack, a gay novelist whose ‘name (is) more celebrated than his books, his blurbs more solicited than his stories’. Like White, he has written an acclaimed biography of a gay artist and, like White, his fiction is heavily autobiographical. Indeed, he produces a blisteringly