A desultory life…except for mirror images
Review by Grady Harp
David Leavitt, a brilliant author himself, wrote the Introduction to this wondrously touching little book by Christopher Coe, and in many ways his introductory remarks are equal to the novel. Leavitt probes the life and influence and style of Coe and manages to relate moments from this brief at times rambling, almost disconnected story bringing clarity to the reader about to embark on the too brief journey of I LOOK DIVINE.
A word about Christopher Coe: born in Pennsylvania in 1953 and raised in Portland, Oregon, Coe was a nascent American novelist who spent his adult years in New York City and Paris, making his living as a cabaret singer, a photographer and an author. I LOOK DIVINE, his first novel, was published in 1987 and his second novel SUCH TIMES in 1993 was `a paean to life written in the valley of the shadow of death’. Coe died of AIDS in 1994 at his home in Manhattan.
The spare but eloquent prose of Coe’s book is related by the older brother of Nicholas, a self-absorbed, narcissistic young man who feels he has been exceptional from the moment of his birth – Caesarean section with enough consequences to always dramatize the beginnings of a life of self indulgent narcissism. In so many ways it is the universal story of seeking to be noticed, worshiped, adored and desired by other men. The book starts at its end with the brother picking up the remaining fragments of his now dead younger Nicholas, who as with all but Dorian Gray gradually passed into the realm of aging.
The magic of the book lies partly in its origin – the work of an artist who died far too young in a time when death gathered beautiful young men under the dark cape of the plague. The reader is left with the longing that this author could have written more. As Leavitt states in his Introduction, ‘I LOOK DIVNE is a novel of self-evident authenticity, through the radiant surface of which a dark core of suffering burns.’ It is good to have this new version published again, courtesy Bruno Gmünder.
Grady Harp, January 2014
TITLE: I LOOK DIVINE
AUTHOR: CHRISTOPHER COE
PUBLISHER: BRUNO GMUENDER