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Two People

In response to:

Queer Lives from the November 11, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

The art of fiction, I believe, is to make the reader feel more than is stated on the printed page, to create for him by means of a story something that is not said in so many words. A story achieves this by its details and when the details are changed so is the effect. Stanley Kauffmann, in his review of my novel, Two People, writes that Marcello, the Italian boy who goes to bed with Forrest, is more interested in girls, “although he does not reveal it”; but Marcello reveals this to Forrest in half a dozen scenes in the book and one of the points of the story is the different meaning this preference has for the Italian and for the American. A writer has no recourse against a reviewer’s disliking his book, but its contents should not be misrepresented. Even if Mr. Kauffmann is not moved by how the affair between Forrest and Marcello influences the American’s emotional life and his thoughts about his marital future, the climactic scene of the book is a dramatization of this. Forrest forces Marcello to return to his family after he has run away from home, and his action makes him realize that the responsibilities of love are its ultimate value, not its price, and that he himself cannot live without his own family. If Mr. Kauffmann is unaware of these facts it must be because he is looking for something else. But how can I defend Two People against his attack when he treats it as a sex novel, a type of book about which he has preconceived ideas, when I have deliberately used sex only as the key that unlocks the door to my subject and tried to make this clear by not writing about it from a psychoanalytic, moralistic, or pornographic viewpoint? I chose a sexual situation that is usually treated in one of these ways specifically to underline the fact that I am treating it matter-of-factly, for I do not believe that the moral problems of our time are sexual, and I wanted to put this into perspective. Nor do I understand why Luigi Barzini’s statement that my real subject is the City should have made Mr. Kauffmann declare that if this is true “it is awesome to think of all the writers whom Windham has swept into the dust-heap.” I have never swept any writers into the dust-heap; I particularly admire Manzoni and Moravia, the two he names; and subject matter is not exclusive. In the beginning of his review, Mr. Kauffmann announces that the American novelists are now free to write comfortably about sex of any kind, inside established frontiers, with only a little police and clerical harassment. I fear the harassment is much more likely to come from the reviewers who establish the frontiers and dismiss the novels that do not fit within them, just as Mr. Kauffmann dismisses Two People for not coinciding with the terrain he has allotted to books explaining “the eruption of homosexuality in unsuspecting married men.”

Donald Windham

New York City

Stanley Kauffmann replies:

Naturally Mr. Windham is not pleased with my review of Two People, but I think his objections lack substance. First, his quotation of my comment is incomplete. I wrote:

…he meets a youth who goes home with him for money. They commence an affair. The man falls in love; the youth, although he does not reveal this, is more interested in girls.

This does not state that the youth pretended to know no girls (which the man would scarcely have believed anyway); it says that their relationship, as a love affair, was predominantly one-sided (p. 176: “Forrest was no competition to his feelings for Nini, anyway”). I cannot find that Marcello ever reveals this fact to Forrest, whatever the latter may conjecture.

Mr. Windham says that he has not written a sex novel, that he has used sex only as a key to unlock a door. If there is a difference in this distinction, it applies equally to the novels by Messrs. Herlihy and Linney which, in the same review, I praised. I certainly do not quarrel with Mr. Windham’s appraisal that he treated the sex in his book “matter-of-factly,” only with his claim to have put anything at all in perspective, even such a modest subject as “the moral problems of our time.” But I had better not pursue this matter, or his use of such terms as “climactic” and “dramatization,” since it would entail a re-review of the book.

The context of the line about sweeping other writers onto the dust-heap makes it clear—to others, at least—that I did not ascribe this implication to Mr. Windham but to the authors of the absurd comments on the jacket of his novel.

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