Jack the Modernist

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Jack the Modernist
by Robert Glück
Difficulty: Medium
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Blurb from the inside cover:

“Set in the early 1980’s, Robert Glück’s first novel, Jack the Modernist, has become a classic of postmodern gay fiction. Bob is excited and lonely. He meets and pursues the elusive Jack, a director who is able to transform others without altering himself. Bob goes to the baths, gossips on the phone, goes to a bar, thinks about werewolves, has an orgasm, and discovers a number of truths about Jack. A paean to love and obsession, Glück’s novel explores the everyday in a language that is both intimate and lush.”

This is probably one of the edgier novels on this website. Robert Glück was one of the founders of New Narrative, a 1970s literary movement that aimed to depict subjective experiences as honestly and candidly as possible. In the case of Jack the Modernist, that means a lot of graphic sex. I admit I’m deeply skeptical of New Narrative–‘honestly depicting subjective experiences’ doesn’t seem very unique to me–but I do find something interesting about Glück’s pornography (though he might resent that label). In a way we’ve been scared of sex since the AIDS crisis, and our literature reflects that fear through our unwillingness to depict it in detail. So where should people go for honest, authentic portrayals of the act? The modern porn industry isn’t exactly the best place to learn about it, so books like Glück’s definitely have a purpose to serve in the culture.

I had a pretty lukewarm response to the actual story. A fairly typical tale of unrequited love in a promiscuous, pre-AIDS gay community. Very reminiscent of other ‘halcyon era’ books like Dancer from the Dance. Glück’s prose is pleasant, and the book is full of little postmodern flourishes which keeps it fun and flexible (some conversations are carried out like plays, for example). It’s also fairly short, which is to its benefit as I can only read about shallow gay men fucking each other for so long before I start to get bored. I don’t usually comment on the actual physical book itself, but the copy I own (linked above) is a nice little piece. Great cover, french flaps, with full page (black and white) images that complement the story’s events. All in all, while Jack the Modernist probably isn’t going to blow your mind, it’s interesting enough to warrant a look, and it’s low-commitment enough to probably be worth the time.

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