On The Weekend

06Dec07

Once again with a thought to dip into the backlist of American fiction written in a “gay voice,” we turn our attention to The Weekend, Peter Cameron’s deceptively bitter 1994 novel about two couples — one straight and one gay — who spend a weekend at the straight couple’s house in upstate New York. This unlikely scenario comes about by way of the dead lover of one of the gay men, who (i.e., the dead lover) is also the brother of the husband in question. There is much to admire about this book, beginning with the small trim size — it’s barely bigger than a CD — which (at least at first) makes it feel like you’re settling in with the libretto to one of your favorite operas. More important — and far more astounding from a technical standpoint — is the juxtaposition of Cameron’s careful prose, literary and reserved, with his characters, all of whom are miserable in the worst sense of the word (which is to say insufferable and completely unaware). First you have Lyle, the surviving half of the original gay couple, a pretentious art critic who likes to make shallow proclamations about this or that art form being “dead”; his date for the weekend is a young painter who despite his annoying aimlessness is perhaps the most forgivable of the lot, given the rotten treatment he receives at the hands of the husband and wife, who are clearly perturbed to see Lyle romantically involved with anyone not the husband’s dead brother. The husband spends all of his time in the garden for reasons that are not entirely clear until we are introduced to the wife, one of those desperate, neurotic souls who lives a fantasy (attractive, faithful husband; house in the country; money to spare; cute child; morning swims in the nearby river) but seems nothing but unhappy about it. As we read, we become increasingly agitated: why spend even ten seconds with these weak and unimaginative people? But on the verge of throwing the book out the window (and it is the perfect size for throwing), we realize that we have already finished it and thus end up feeling oddly grateful to Cameron for subjecting us to the vacuous world as it so often exists. These people, we realize, are like so many from our past, and we are astonished (and frankly exhausted) to have known such shallow souls (and to have been subjected to their petty tyrannies), so in the end, we feel nothing but relieved to have left them behind.

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