When I first came out, I read and enjoyed Edmund White’s early fiction Nocturnes for the King of Naples and Forgetting Elena. His later work become increasingly sloppy and solipsistic; sometime in the 1990s, I stopped reading his stuff. Of the gay writers writing today, White is perhaps the most gifted stylist — or at least was in his early work.
Last night, however, when Walter Olson linked an essay White had written, reflecting on his years at Cranbrook, the “boys’ prep school outside Detroit” that both he and Mitt Romney attended, though at different times, I discovered the writer I had once enjoyed. He reflected on his own years at the school, then considering the nature of the place and the background of the studies, turned his thoughts to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and considered the recent allegations of the candidate’s adolescent antics:
On the one hand he had an embarrassingly famous father, the governor of Michigan, whom he idolized as the youngest child. On the other he was the sole Mormon, a member of what was definitely seen as a creepy, stigmatized cult in that world of bland Episcopalian Wasps (we had Episcopalian services at chapel three mornings a week). When his father was president of American Motors, he lived at home and was a day student, an envied status. When his father was elected governor and moved to the state capital of Lansing, he became a boarder. Suddenly he was surrounded by other Cranbrook students and the strict “masters,” 24/7. He no longer had the constant support of his tight-knit family. Now he had to win approval from the other boys.
No wonder he became a daring and even violent prankster. He who worried about his own marginal status couldn’t bear the presence of an unapologetic sissy like Lauber, with his long bleached hair (the Mormons, then as now, have insisted on a neat, traditional, conservative appearance, especially in their young missionary men whom they send out all over the world). In scorning and shearing a sissy student and leading a gang of five other boys in this “prank,” Romney may have felt popular and in the right for the first time.
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