Jump to content

Book Review: Arkansas by David Leavitt

Drew Payne


Arkansas is a collection of three novellas that show David Leavitt at his best, exploring the lives and emotions of his characters.

The first story is The Term Paper Artist, which is the closest he has come to writing a sex comedy. The narrator is a disgraced novelist who is hiding at the home of his professor father. He soon becomes involved in accepting sexual favours from jock-students in return for writing English literary essays for them. Soon, word spreads, and he has several jocks and essays on the go at the same time. This being a David Leavitt story, it isn't a fun, rushed tale of sexed-up jocks and Eng. Lit. essays; rather the story is about a writer with writer's block and the strange course of events that releases it.

Next is The Wooden Anniversary. Here, David Leavitt revisits two characters, Celia and Nathan, who have been featured in his previous short story collections. Celia is now living in Italy and running an Italian Cookery School for Americans. Nathan is visiting her with an old friend, Lizzy, a narrator who is always the last person to know anything. The reunion is not a happy one. Celia is married, but her husband prefers to spend most of his time with his mistress, and Nathan is still desperately searching for a lover, which he has been doing his entire adult life. The friends go sightseeing in the local area, there's a little holiday romance, and then the fireworks erupt. In typical David Leavitt style, this is a slow-burn story that only explodes at the end. This next Celia and Nathan story can feel like one is revisiting old friends or perhaps witnessing an unwelcome soap opera, depending on how one warms to them. Personally, I find them fascinating as they illustrate David Leavitt's take on the disasters of human relationships. You don’t have to had read any of the other stories featuring these characters to enjoy this one.

The last novella is Saturn Street. Out of all the novellas, this one is the strongest, carrying its narrator on a greater emotional journey than the previous two. Jerry Roth, a writer lost in Hollywood, narrates Saturn Street. He has come to Hollywood to work on his screenplay, but instead, he sits around his apartment watching Dr Delia (a TV psychotherapist he never calls) and formalist gay porn videos (which he doesn’t find erotic). To break the monotony, he volunteers with Angels, a charity that supplies daily meals to people with Aids in LA. His regular round takes in a mixed bag of people, including a man who only wears orange sneakers and an IV. One of the characters he visits is Phil, a handsome ex-carpenter. Soon, Jerry falls in quiet, unrequited love with Phil. This isn’t the world of grand passions; Jerry and Phil don’t end up rolling across the carpet in hot sex, nor do they end together as a couple. Instead, Jerry quietly and secretly loves Phil as Phil’s health deteriorates. This is the territory where David Leavitt excels, with the small passions of everyday life. He carefully and empathetically charts Jerry’s unrequited love and how this moves him on in his life, but more sensitively, he describes the physical downward spiral of Phil’s health. This story shows David Leavitt’s great strength, charting modern-day gay life, and though this story has no great plot, the emotional journey of it more than carried me along.

Arkansas shows David Leavitt’s power in mapping the emotional life of urban gay men and all the highs and lows that come with that. Though no grand passions, the emotions here have that sharp taste of reality. Don’t be put off by this book being made up of three novellas; David Leavitt packs much more into each one than lesser writers do into whole novels.

Edited by Drew Payne


Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Similar Content

    • By Caz Pedroso
      This is my first book review, so please feel free to suggest improvements.
      I looked at a few friends blogs and found there seemed to be a fairly excepted standard layout and so I have tried to stick to that as much as possible.
      Book Details

      Title: His Grandfather's Watch
      Author: N.R. Walker
      Publisher: BlueHeart Press
      Length: 86 print pages
      It was just an ordinary day for Alex Harper at Harper's Antiquities, until Callum Winters walked in with a watch.
      "It was my Grandfather's. I was hoping you could tell me something about it."
      A love story of two couples, generations apart.
      Buy Links
      All Romance
      About the author
      N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn't have it any other way. She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don't let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words. She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things...but likes it even more when they fall in love. She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal. She's been writing ever since...
      Visit her web site at
      Or her Facebook page at
      Or follow her on Twitter
      or E-mail her at nrwalker2103@gmail.com
      My Review
      Hmmm, what can I tell you about this wonderful story without giving too much away????
      Well, I can start by saying the writing is great. It flows well, and glides from one scene to another almost seamlessly.
      The characters are believable and endearing. You get pulled straight into their lives and the story they are trying to uncover.
      One slight spoiler for you – There’s an extra bit to the story at the end…make sure you don’t miss it.
      My favorite part was:

      I think this part really shows how close Alex and Cal have become and how Alex is just what Cal needs. But of course to find out where this part is, you’ll have to read the book… 

      **Remember this book is FREE**

    • By Caz Pedroso
      Book Details
      Title: Tears of the Neko
      Author: Taylor Ryan
      Publisher: Self Published
      Length: 439 print pages

      A younger brother buys his brother, the Duke and heir to the throne, a surprising gift for his brother's birthday--a young, very skittish neko slave. But ,Damien has no use for a personal slave. But a bet with his two younger brothers has Damien keeping the boy at his side as a matter of pride. When attempts on his life begin, Damien discovers just how protective the cat-like human can be.
      This is the story of a young neko who wasn't given the choice to become a slave. Having been captured by hunters who killed his parents and sell slaves illegally to the mines, Kayden grew up with the hunters torturing him into submission, until they finally sold him six years later to a slave market. It is here where the young neko is bought on a whim by a peer of the realm as a birthday gift--and his life begins to change.
      Buy Link
      About the author
      Taylor Ryan is the pen name for Sharon Hunter's M/M novels. She also writes young adult fiction as well. She lives in the northeast with her two daughters and her husband as well as their many sugar gliders. She loves reading as much as she loves to write, and she also works as an editor for other authors.
      Visit her at
      Or on
      My Review
      First let me say I love this story. It was the first one by this author that I read and I have now read all of her work.
      The characters are wonderful.
      From the beginning you will fall in love with Kayden. With everything he has been through before the story starts, and everything he goes through during, you can’t help but want to gather him up and protect him from the big bad world around him.
      Damien is lovely, but, he is so buried in his work that he doesn’t even really take notice of Kayden at first. There are points when I wanted to reach into the book and smack him round the back of the head.
      Harrison is the typical little brother, however, I do think he sees more than others give him credit for.
      And of course lastly you have Roman…well let’s just say he would be better minus certain parts of his anatomy and leave it at that, shall we??? I’ll let you come to your own conclusion about him when you read the story.
      My favorite bit had to be Kayden playing with shaving cream, I could almost imagine it in my mind. I laughed so hard.
      Overall a great story full of ups and downs.
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..