Originally reviewed here
.Why I Read It:
Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature course.
This is a difficult book to review; it's a very heavy novel, both in page number and in content and it introduced so many concepts to me that I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
I should also preface this review by stating that I've never read any of Delany's SF before. I never even KNEW about it him until I had to read this book. If you're not familiar with him, he's a black, gay man man who started publishing science fiction novels in the 60s. He's highly regarded as one of the best PoC genre writers of our time (and he was Octavia E. Butler's teacher at some point!)
One thing that people should be aware of before jumping into this is that it's VERY theory laden. There are a lot of anecdotes chronicling important moments in Delany's life, but he's concerned with a much bigger picture when he looks at these events. The theory, unsurprisingly, is what I had such a hard time grappling with, but not in an exhausting way -- rather, it was kind of exhilarating and we had plenty to talk about in class.
I also loved how Delany is hyper-aware that he's writing a memoir. His first chapter, or preface if you want, talks solely about his experience with realizing he was telling people the wrong year when his father died. He knows the right year is fact, but the year he kept thinking was what FELT real to him. All of this is to say that we never be WHOLLY sure of what we're recalling, no matter how real or factual it may feel. It was a good preface for a memoir, seeing as people are oftentimes suspicious/cynical of them in the first place.
It's clear that Delany is a very good writer. The book shows a lot of technical skill in his writing, whether it be him talking about critical theory, or telling some story or other. It's also very clear that he's a really smart guy, and he knows it, but he never rubs it in your face. The writing style itself almost all reads matter-of-factly which was jarring in some cases, especially when he's talking about his sexual exploits (more on that in a bit), but it worked. And even though he writes in this style, he still writes very earnestly as well; he obviously recognizes his faults and he doesn't always paint himself in a very flattering light.
There's lot in this book that might put people off. Delany is writing of pre-AIDS crisis in New York City, so Delany has A LOT of sex with A LOT of people. He also describes the everyday life he experiences in his open-marriage with poet Marilyn Hacker. This relationship was what my class had the hardest time grasping. Despite being gay, Delany and Hacker have a very active and loving sexual relationship. No one in the class really knew what to do with that (including myself.) People were even MORE thrown off when Bob was introduced, a man who comes into their life and they start a polygamous relationship together. By this point, I had just come to accept Delany and Hacker's relationship, so that when I came to this, it didn't feel that shocking. Actually, I found the whole thing very touching; it was obvious that they really did all love each other, and when circumstances made it so that they couldn't be together anymore, I was just as sad as they were.Final Verdict:
I feel like I'm not doing this book justice, because it really is something else. Overall, while it's a fairly long book, and very heavy in many regards, it's also a very rewarding read. Delany is a very good writer and this memoir has made me really want to check out his science fiction work. Some people might be put off by the explicit content and the alternative lifestyles (which I don't think is, or should be, offensive, but alas, I know a lot of people who would), but if you're at all interested in reading a memoir that has theory sewn into its tapestry and deals with LGBTQ issues, I highly recommend it.