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The Married Man: A Novel

The Married Man: A Novel

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by Edmund White

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In Edmund White's most moving novel yet, an American living in Paris finds his life transformed by an unexpected love affair.

Austin Smith is pushing fifty, loveless and drifting, until one day he meets Julien, a much younger, married Frenchman. In the beginning, the lovers' only impediments are the comic clashes of culture, age, and temperament. Before long,


In Edmund White's most moving novel yet, an American living in Paris finds his life transformed by an unexpected love affair.

Austin Smith is pushing fifty, loveless and drifting, until one day he meets Julien, a much younger, married Frenchman. In the beginning, the lovers' only impediments are the comic clashes of culture, age, and temperament. Before long, however, the past begins to catch up with them. In a desperate quest to save health and happiness, they move from Venice to Key West, from Montreal in the snow to Providence in the rain. But it is amid the bleak, baking sands of the Sahara that their love is pushed to its ultimate crisis.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com Review
The Married Man

As a longtime fan of Edmund White's writing, I'm always puzzled by criticism of his books. The language he uses, some complain, is dense, overly poetic, difficult to follow without a dictionary. His plots are minimal and, where plots do exist, they're overtly manipulated by the author—possibly to appear more postmodern. The situations he presents, while apparently simple, turn out so intellectually or emotionally contrary that they hinder readers from getting involved. He uses too many untranslated French words and phrases, leaving readers feeling that he writes only for the literary elite.

These same reproaches will be launched at White's new novel, The Married Man. Some will be legitimate. It would be astonishing if an author of White's age and experience suddenly transformed himself in midstream. But although his latest offering is very much "The Mixture as Before," most of the carping will be unjustified, even meaningless. The Farewell Symphony signaled a reining-in of White's prose to the Gallic lapidary, a switch of his plotting to the more straightforward and chronological, a reduction of his situations to easily comprehensible affairs and friendships. White's new novel goes even further in all of these areas and in its concentration. As a result, it's a fairly easy read.

Austin is an unassuming American scholar, a specialist in 18th-century French furniture living on the Ile de Cité with a social circle made up of gay and straight Parisians and expatriate Americans, and attracted to French men half his age. Freshly broken-hearted from an affair with a sexy gold-digger, he meets Julien, a lean, handsome architect in the throes of divorce. An unlikely affair begins, and even more surprisingly, continues. The patrician Julien, who doesn't consider himself gay, deigns to enter into Austin's life, fulfilling his sexual and psychological need to be dominated. The first third of the novel deals with the complex, often comic steps in this fitting together of oddly paired mates. White's portrayal of Austin's social set in Paris, their national and individual vagaries and confrontations, is lovingly detailed. The "head-shots" he provides of the dozen minor characters surrounding the central couple are clever, believable, and at times hysterically funny. Seldom since Proust and Madame Verdurin's "little clan" has the social intricacy of such silliness been so well handled.

But clouds hover on the horizon. Austin has been boringly HIV-positive for years, when Julien also tests positive for HIV—with a surprisingly menacing viral load. Peter, Austin's last American lover, who still lives in Austin's Manhattan studio, joins the new couple during a trip to Venice and restakes his claim on Austin's heart. Financial considerations force Austin to take a job teaching at a New England university. Julien attempts to join him, but is stopped at airport immigration and sent back. After much red tape, he manages to get into the U.S. just in time for a recession and no hopes of employment. Idle, Julien pouts, becomes insufferably French, and pampers their basset hound. In this third of the novel, White handles his themes with an unsettling yet successful blend of social satire and a Balzacian focus on large personalities clashing within a framework of domestic claustrophobia.

As alienated and baffled by American life as Julien, Austin drags over French visitors and tries to entertain them with trips to Vermont, Mexico, and Key West. Instead, Julien fights with everyone, banning Peter and infuriating Austin. Julien's health worsens and he is hospitalized. They return to France, where Julien begins to paint again. More friends are banished; Julien goes downhill fast. They rush to the warmth of Morocco but this turns into a series of blunders, something of a death march. During the lowest moments of his life, Austin must face bigotry, ignorance, and intransigent bureaucracy. From the high social comedy of the opening, the book descends to catastrophe, yet it is a tragedy tinged by a barrage of ironies: Austin's mistaken belief that he's betrayed his lover; Julien's final words; and shocking post mortem revelations.

I've mentioned classic French authors, but many characters and situations could also be straight out of Gogol or Kafka, while Austin's abhorrence of the U.S., its "farcical" universities and "Savonarola students," is pure Nabokov. Austin is a snob, if a peculiar one: "Oh, the best people," he says at one point, "are Europeanized Americans," as though he were living inside a late Henry James novel. And Austin's continually bizarre distinctions, which unceasingly deconstruct his life and relationships even as he's constructing them, are right out of Swann in Love. There is an American wideness and inclusiveness, a generosity of spirit that informs White's writing, with its larger-than-life people, its pungent images (huge schefflera plants "as if nourished on plutonium") and its readiness to take any idea for granted, if only for an experimental moment.

Both leads are superbly rendered: the sophisticated, eager to please, always stepped on, secretly resentful and manipulative Austin; and Julien, whose character, delineated in stages as his physical and mental health decline, becomes a disturbingly realistic case study.

Like Diane Johnson's celebrated portrayals of Americans in Paris, Le Divorce and Le Marriage, The Married Man brilliantly depicts the intimate dynamics between lovers and the cross-cultural misunderstandings between the old and new worlds. An irresistibly involving story that will satisfy critics and fans alike, The Married Man is White at the height of his power—his richest, most accomplished novel to date.

Felice Picano

Felice Picano is the author of the bestselling novel The Book of Lies.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In recent years, veteran novelist White (A Boy's Own Life; The Farewell Symphony) has turned to transatlantic themes (as in his biography of Genet). This Jamesian turn continues in the tale of Austin Smith, an expatriated scion of decayed Southern gentry, who lives on Ile Saint Louis, in Paris. Austin, an expert on 18th-century French furniture, is HIV positive but healthy when he becomes the lover of Julien, a married architect more than 20 years Austin's junior who is in the process of divorcing his wife. Throughout the first half of the novel, Austin maintains a protective distance, allowing him to see, all too clearly, Julien's pretensions and foibles. Austin keeps his HIV status secret from Julien until the latter gets the flu, which frightens Austin into a confession. When Austin gets a job teaching in Providence, R.I., he brings Julien with him. But a complication with Julien's visa, and Austin's restlessness, have the pair repeatedly flying back and forth between America and France. Meanwhile, Julien is diagnosed with AIDS, and his health disintegrates. The couple become a frustrated threesome when Austin feels responsible for a whiny, dim ex-lover named Peter, also dying of AIDS; Peter and Julien instantly detest each other. White's candor about the ways egotism is incompletely subsumed in love shows up in many wonderful touches; White illustrates perfectly, for example, the ways in which Austin's generosity to Julien and Peter, both much younger men, infantilizes them. His descriptions of Paris, Venice and Morocco are infused with an almost Matisse-like sensuality, but sometimes the author's evident intelligence seems wasted on his self-absorbed characters. In the perspicuity of White's art, however, even the vapid Julien, dying in Morocco, evokes pathos and terror, bestowing this love story with a classically tragic aura. BOMC featured selection; QPB selection; Reader's Subscription selection; to be featured in BOMC's new, as-yet-unnamed gay and lesbian book club. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Chubby, healthy, and HIV-positive, Austin is a fiftyish connoisseur of French furniture who lives in Paris. His days are pleasant but a bit unfocused, his love life sexually charged if romantically empty--until, in the midst of one of his desultory workouts at the gym, he meets Julien. A much younger, bisexual, married, and oh-so-French architect, Julien is quickly smitten with Austin. Their courtship is one of the greatest boy-meets-boy stories ever, as engrossing and satisfying as can be found in any romance fiction. Paris, with its dinner parties and sophisticated society, serves as a dazzling backdrop, giving White (The Farewell Symphony) ample opportunity for hilarious social commentary. Just when the couple seems to settle into marriage, the most unexpected happens: young Julien becomes sick. With unflinching honesty, White chronicles Julien's illness and Austin's care for him, as they move from Paris to Providence to Key West, back to Paris, and, finally, to the Sahara. This shift from fun and frothy Paris to a more closed and personal world of illness and loss is brilliant; the reader can only be left devastated. As always, White writes beautifully, but there is a greater urgency in the telling and a new emphasis on character. Nowhere in his writing has he created someone as powerfully alive as Julien, "the married man." Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.]--Brian Kenney, Metropolitan Museum of Art Lib., New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
David Bahr
[A] beautiful yet unsettling account of loveing a self-absorbed, childlike and ultimately enigmatic bisexual man.
The Advocate
Alice Truax
White's portrait of a gay union works both with and against the clichés of marriage, to droll and disturbing effect . . . instructive and deeply moving . . . White rings new changes on the old themes of mortality and forgiveness . . .
The New York Times Book Review
Talk Magazine
An American bachelor infected with HIV falls in love with a married Frenchman in this eloquent novel of love and loss.
Hero Magazine
Edmond White is one of the great living gay novelists, and in The Married Man he's given us another gift-a captivating literary novel full of perfect descriptions and bracing honesty about the complexities of attachment.
Kirkus Reviews
White leaves the first-person, autobiographical world of his trilogy (The Farewell Symphony, 1997, etc.) and portrays a romance—and its dissolution—across three continents and six countries with his characteristic wisdom and sexual frankness, darkened by a new sense of foreboding. Fifty-ish, HIV-positive, and recently heartbroken Austin Smith is an American scholar living in Paris, where he writes primarily about furniture. In his gym, he meets Julien, a married French architect some 20 years his junior. With effortless narrative velocity, a romance ensues, and so does the novel's travelogue, first with short excursions around the Paris area, then outward to detailed passages in Nice, Venice, Rome, Vermont, Montreal, Disney World, Key West, the Yucatan peninsula, and finally Morocco. In the early Paris sections, Austin's relationship with Julien develops against a background of elegant salons, privileged expatriates, and an assimilated gay subculture, with White sharply and drolly observing social manners—as well as the ethical issue of when to tell a lover about a dread disease. Midway through the story, Austin accepts a teaching position at a university in Providence, Rhode Island; Julien divorces, leaves his firm, and follows. In something of a reversal, the Providence sections introduce complications the initial set-up didn't anticipate: Austin discovers the malignant, politically correct demagoguery of academia—but it's Julien who develops the much more serious problem of full-blown AIDS. Austin compromises principles, grows if not robust than rotund, while the once apparently healthy Julien goes into a sad and rapid decline. At heart hereareissues of loyalty and the suspension of the erotic in the face of a terminal disease. The music of tragedy swells to operatic proportions in Morocco, where Julien's lingering death invokes elements of the divine, the clinical, and the macabre. Here, the graphic sex of White's earlier work is replaced with graphic medicalia, and its thematic urgency by a poignant, bone-weary resignation to the now sadly predictable injustices of life and death in the gay community. A wise, sorrowful tale. Book-of-the-Month/QPB selection

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International
Sold by:
Random House
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2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Austin was twenty years older than everyone else in the gym--and the only American. It was a place for serious people who wanted a quick workout--pairs of students from the nearby branch of the Paris university system or solitary young businessmen who trudged about with Walkmen plugged into their ears making a dim, annoying racket. Not very many Frenchmen wanted to build huge muscles, at least not very many straight guys.

This was by no means a gay gym. It was just a small workout room that looked down through smudged glass panes onto a public pool below. The pool was Olympic size and even through the glass still reeked of hot chlorine. It had been built in the Belle Epoque and recently restored. Austin thought there might be more action in the pool and the shower rooms, but he didn't like swimming and he'd sort of given up on cruising. He wasn't young enough and what he had to offer--his accent, his charming if broken-down apartment, his interesting profession, his kindness--wasn't visible in a shower room.

For some time Austin had been looking occasionally at a particular newcomer. They had already exchanged two smiles and many glances, brilliant little flashes of curiosity in this unfriendly place where looks never lingered and even those guys who stood watch over someone lifting dangerously heavy weights never used the occasion as an excuse for striking up a conversation.

Now the younger man was struggling under a bar loaded with too much weight, nor had he secured the metal plates--he was about to let the whole thing go crashing to the floor. Austin came rushing up behind him, lifted the bar and put it safely back on the stand at the head of the board where the stranger was lying on his back. None of the other men seemed to have registered the near crisis; Austin could hear the Walkman of the guy next to them jittering away like cicadas in a tin can.

"Thank you!" the young man exclaimed in French as he stood up. He spoke in a deep, resonant voice, the sort of "voice from the balls" that so many Latin men cultivate. He scrutinized Austin intensely. Austin was highly flattered by the attention. He'd long admitted to himself that he was the sort of man who needed constant transfusions of interest and affection. If his phone didn't ring for a day or if he didn't have a dinner date lined up he was suicidal by dusk. If his date yawned he was ready to bolt from the restaurant or do a tap dance on the table. Now here was this young man who, if he wasn't exactly Austin's type, had become so by taking an interest in him.

"I could see that you were, perhaps, unfamiliar--"

"It's all completely new to me," the young man exclaimed. Austin noticed that his white shorts were cut high, which only emphasized the power of his legs, not in a sexual but rather in a boyish way. "Are you English?" he asked.

Austin had come to count on French people commenting on his accent. It not only provided them with a safe topic but he knew everyone under forty in France wanted to live somewhere in the English-speaking world, at least for a year or two.

"American." He anticipated the next question and said, "New York." Then the next and added, "Although I've been here eight years." Finally, he offered, "As you can hear, it's difficult to learn another language after forty." He wasn't fishing, he just wanted to lay to rest right away the question of his age. "Is this your first time here?" Austin asked.

"Yes. My wife comes here to swim. She's down there somewhere."

He waved toward the pool with a vague hand, although his glance remained fixed on Austin.

The young man asked Austin to show him how to do the exercise properly, but, though observing the demonstration politely, he scarcely took it seriously, as his bright eyes and slight smile suggested. He seemed too alive to the moment to pay any attention to it.

When asked, Austin said that he was a "cultural journalist" who was writing a book on French furniture of the eighteenth century.

The Frenchman happened to be in the small locker room dressing to leave at the same time as Austin. He turned modestly away when he pulled on his bikini underpants and revealed nothing but the expected hairy buttocks, full, even luscious. Austin was ordinarily alert to even the grubbiest sexual possibility. That's what he was always on the lookout for, but today he'd already picked up a hint of romance, as though this guy could be courted but not groped. They kept up their banter which, if overheard, would have sounded forced, schoolboyish, but it was melded and, somewhat, liquefied by the flow of their exchanged smiles, glances, nods.

When they were on the street the Frenchman said he had to rush back to work. He was an architect on the other side of Paris.

"I'd love to see you again," Austin said, knowing he had nothing to lose except his dignity, which he didn't care much about.

"Me, too."

"Here's my number."

"Oh, you Americans are always so well organized with your calling cards. If you give me another, I'll write my number on it for you."

"Your home number?" Austin asked, pressing his advantage.

"My work number," the man said with a big smile.

Austin was surprised by the slight stiffening of his own penis. For weeks he'd been nearly impotent even in expert arms, and here he was, excited by a stranger's mere presence and the hint of a date. He liked that they were both dressed in coats and ties on a strangely warm day early in April at the wrong end of the Boulevard Saint-Germain.

"Hey, what's your name anyway?"


"Really?" Austin said. "That's the name of the guy who just dropped me."

Julien smiled, Austin guessed, not at his misfortune but at the explicitness of his remark. Sometimes it's okay to be American, Austin thought; we have a reputation for being brazen we must live up to.

Meet the Author

Edmund White lives in New York City.

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Married Man 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lush, romantic and heartbreaking, this story of love and loss is a beautifully written novel. Mr White has the unique ability to make us feel as if we are immersed in the world which his characters inhabit. The language is poetic and his images are, at times, startling. I highly recommend this novel to all readers, gay and straight.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put the book down! The reader is taken through every step of the volatile relationship and you feel yourself becoming a part of their world. White has an incredible ability to describe scenes, thoughts, and emotions in a way few authors can pull off - Excellent book!