One reader objects to the review of a novel about gay love; another tells us how Albee arrived at "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."
In Book World for Aug. 15, Dennis Drabelle can't say enough good things about The Coming Storm, a novel by Paul Russell about homosexuality in a boys' prep school and an affair between an adult male and a young boy. Russell novelizes, and Drabelle apologizes. Early in his review, Drabelle tells us that the author persuades the "open-minded" reader that the sexual seduction of a 15-year-old by his teacher (a man in whom the boy, and no doubt the boy's unwitting parents, has placed trust) "is not only harmful to neither but a boon to the precocious junior partner, who becomes a better, more engaged student after the affair gets underway." So that's how it works! Have a homosexual affair with an adult while you're still a child, and you'll become a better student? Drabelle has his chance to disclaim the crime but says nothing, leading the reader, by a clear phrasing of words, to assume that this is his conclusion as well as the author's. He also conveys the unmistakable message that the rest of us who are not open-minded about pederasty remain a bunch of narrow-minded bigots.
Reviewer Drabelle is apparently an authority on one subject, but is he also an authority on the matter of sexual abuse of children? He readily informs the uninitiated reader that the sexual affair between the adult and the boy corrupts "nobody." Does he stand ready to testify that permanent emotional damage never results from a child being sexually abused, or that the child would not be infected with the HIV virus? He later refers to the sexual affair between the adolescent and the child as "going great guns" in a pathetic attempt to convince the reader that such a sexual relationship between a man and a boy is just one big fun event, like a day at the circus, ignoring completely the irreparable damage undoubtedly being done to the youth's psyche, a damage that may well prevent the boy from living a happy, normal adult life. No less reprehensible is Drabelle's apology for pederasty when he sees "the legal system that makes it a crime" as stereotyping, thereby hinting that it's the law, not the offense, that's wrong.
Drabelle's seeking refuge for his position by claiming that his is just a review of a work of fiction won't wash. He might stand innocent had he attributed his expressions to the author or to the characters or had he stuck to the reviewer's role of conveying the sense, the flavor, and the message, implied or express, of the book while openly giving recognition to the heinous character of the crime being committed. Instead, he has gone one offensive step beyond by strongly implying that child abuse, when it takes place between two males, should no longer be viewed by the public as either a social offense or a crime. If those of the homosexual persuasion want tolerance from the rest of us, they must first learn to distinguish between a relationship involving two consenting adults and one involving an innocent child. Drabelle has failed to do that.
Dennis Drabelle replies:
Let me go on record as supporting the laws that protect children from the sexual advances of predatory adults -- though I don't believe that anything in my review of The Coming Storm says or implies otherwise. Perhaps I would have been wise to mention one additional plot element in the review (though the piece was already running a bit long). The affair begins when Noah, the precocious 15-year-old, seduces Tracy, the 25-year-old teacher, after crawling into bed with him in the middle of the night, during the snowstorm that has kept Noah from returning to his dorm. In the context of the novel, the dynamics of the affair, including the ensuing improvement in Noah's "attitude" and grades, seemed plausible to me. Mr. Hawbaker, on the other hand, apparently believes that no such boy could exist, that any such affair would inexorably result in wreckage. He is entitled to his opinion.
Since he is widely known to be a stickler for accuracy, I'm sure John Simon won't mind my pointing out that, contrary to his assertion, it was not "on a bedroom mirror" that Edward Albee spotted a certain graffito but in a West 10th Street hangout called the College of Complexes. "Behind the bar," Mel Gussow writes in his entertaining biography of the playwright, "there was a large mirror, on which patrons would write slogans and messages with soap. . . . On an evening in 1954, he noticed a graffito, `Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' Placed there by an unknown hand, the line made Albee laugh.
He said he said he "dropped it from mind." Actually he lodged it deep within his mind.
New York City