Born (in LA in 1956) Richard Anderson and raised on a farm, the gay writer who became the Saint Sebastian of AIDS martyrs published under the name of Sam D’Allesandro, choosing Andy Warhol “superstar” Joe Dallesandro as his “spiritual father”-although Sam was far more passionate than this fictive father ever was. D’Allesandro was fabled for good looks and charismatic personality, and part of the group of San Francisco writers-of which Robert Glück is the best known-developing “new narrative.” I have to confess that I don’t understand what was “new” about how they wrote, though Glück and D’Allesandro were very explicit about ecstasies of erotic surrender.
I do not assume that everything that happened to the first-person narrators of D’Allesandro’s stories happened to him, but I think that the feelings his characters report are autobiographical. And I think that most of the details of drinking and driving and copulating are reporting rather than imagining-if that matters.
It is impossible that the title and character name in “Giovanni’s Apartment” is not an allusion to James Baldwin’s novel “Giovanni’s Room, not least in that both spaces are the only place their white narrators felt safe. D’Allesandro’s narrator does not leave the apartment at all for two sequences of a month. In between, he meets a very short woman who befriends the two of them.
Many of the stories have gal pals for the gay narrator. In a couple of them, he and his lover of the time sleep with the woman. Three of the longer stories involve time spent with women: “Travels with my Mother,” obviously, with his (divorced mother); “Jane and Sam” who have been friends since they experimented with kissing as youths and still sometimes sleep together; “My Day with Judy” (which does not include sex, but includes them driving nude through the desert). These are substantial stories that are tender and often LOL funny.
I find D’Allesandro’s account of two weeks in a Copacabana hotel (there is a recurrent urge to hibernate in these stories) also very funny, though more sarcastic funny than tender.
In addition to some flashbacks in Travels with my Mother,” there are two stories about growing up on a small farm. The title story, “Wild Creatures” really is about wild animals, not a metaphor for fast-lane urban gay players. The attitude in “We never really fight nature, we only try to give it a run for its money” could have come right out of Annie Proulx’s Wyoming stories. “How I Came to the Dinosaur Pond” is rougher, probably unfinished, like the novella “The Zombie Pit” (the title story of an earlier collection of eleven stories, edited by the late poet Steve Abbott, one of the champions of the gay San Francisco “new narrative” group/movement.
The most elegantly cool and beautifully composed story is the one published first in the book-and the one best known beyond the San Francisco coterie-“Nothing Ever Just Disappears.” It was reprinted in the first Men on Men. Its subject matter is a relationship in which the narrator tried to hold off knowing too much about the man he was loving.
There are other insightful and/or comic stories. My favorites are “Electric Type of Thing” and “Jane and Sam.” There are some brief pieces, some of which don’t seem to me to be stories (particularly two about celebrities), but at least one of which I find very striking (“Walking to the Ocean This Morning”).
Unfortunately, the longest piece, “The Zombie Pit” does not show much promise to me of being outstanding, though being unfinished makes predicting how it would eventually have been revised uncertain. (The title is the name the characters give a seedy bar they frequent.)
As he was ravaged by AIDS, D’Allesandro secluded himself (again, I think). I don’t think that what he completed has the perfection of, say, Raymond Radiguet-who died young but had Jean Cocteau to edit his two very accomplished novels-or of Artur Rimbaud’s incandescent poetry, which he stopped writing after breaking with Paul Verlaine. But there is more than promise in this slim body of work (141 pages, 18 narratives, 4 of which are a single page): there are some well-crafted and often mordantly funny stories herein.
The book has a very helpful introduction by another gay “New Narrative” stalwart Kevin Killian, who coauthored one of the stories, the whimsical “A Fine Feat Hered Friend.”
The main complaint has to be that D’Allesandro barely survived into his 30s (dying at 31 after lengthy wasting away). A far less cosmic one is that the running heads in the book are the book title rather than the story title.
BTW, D’Allesandro did not write about AIDS and his own sufferings of it. I don’t think the word appears anywhere in the book. Nor is there a substitute term such as “Slim” in Adam Mars-Jones’s fiction. Although noting “the tyranny of fate,” the book is definitely written from the perspective of a victim.
(I reviewed Glück’s stories and title novella collected in Denny Smith. I noted that the gay San Francisco about which Glück writes is ultra-white. I think that Giovanni is black. That story is set in New York. The San Francisco ones have no nonwhite characters that I noticed.)
This is another of my June gay freedom (an aspiration, not an accomplishment) postings, which have been heavy on collections of short fiction connected to (if not all set in) the San Francisco Bay Area.