Saturday, May 20, 2006

Skinned Alive

Been reading Edmund White's Skinned Alive. Interesting collection, with An Oracle the best so far (I am yet to read Reprise, Palace Days and Watermarked). His Biographer was developing nicely, until White decided to abruptly cut it short and make it a short story. Had he taken it along, it could have become a good book. Charles deciding on Tremble after all the contradictions was just the beginning of the fun, but White halted it there. Too bad!

Oracle was deeply touching. Ray's loneliness after George's death and his (futile) efforts to escape it. George kept telling Ray all through his illness: "You must look out for yourself". He chided him for not getting tested; irresponsible, that's what he said Ray was. After his death, Ray makes a trip to Greece on the invitation of Ralph, a friend. There, he starts on a binge of secretive sexual encounters with a gigolo, Marco, who cannot speak a word of English. Marco is the gruff jock, strictly heterosexual, who does it only for the money. But as time passes and Ray begins to develop feelings for him, Marco too grows tender with him. Ray, too happy with this development, decides to sell off his assets in the States and move to Xania (the Greek town) and open a guest house, possibly with Marco.

On the night before he is to leave, he invites Marco to the palace (Ralph's extravagant mansion) and hands him a note which he has got translated to Greek. In the note, Ray confesses to
his love for Marco. And that he would return to Xania in a month's time.

After reading the note, Marco bends his head for a minute and then speaking in perfect English tells Ray he loves him too but Xania is too small a place for him. Excited, Ray asks him if he would be willing to emigrate to the States. To which, Marco says, "Some day," and adds, "But you must look out for yourself", and saying that, walks out of the house.

The story ends with Ray crying and laughing to himself at the same time, wondering at the surreality of George speaking through this unlikely oracle. The ending, though sad, gleams in its redemptive quality, reminding Ray of the need to stop looking for dependencies.

Great work!!

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