Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel

Written by Edmund White
Review by William Thornton

Edmund White uses the life of Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, to present this interesting novel-within-a-novel. Crane is in Europe, dying by inches of tuberculosis with his wife Cora watching over him. As Crane’s writer friends—Joseph Conrad, Henry James—dart in and out of his life, he begins to dictate a strange story, “The Painted Boy.” It is the flip side of Crane’s novel, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, and tells the story of a teenage newsboy who falls into prostitution in turn-of-the-century New York.

Perspective alternates in this novel between Crane and his wife and then with the introduction of the fictional Crane novel, which White renders in Crane’s spartan, proto-Hemingway prose style. When White inhabits Crane’s consciousness, the effect is a little too artificial—the real life biographical details are made more conspicuous. The same is true for White’s rendering of Crane as the heterosexual man bewitched by a boy of confused and confusing gender traits. At times, he makes the hair on Crane’s chest stand out a little too much rather than employing a subtle clash of sexualities. And by playing off Cora’s career as a prostitute, he introduces an interesting if not too original play on the American proclivity for creating surrogate identities, and the possibilities within them.