Arts & Culture » Books

Out of the mists of the past

by Roberto Friedman

"That Was Something" author Dan Callahan. Photo: Squares & Rebels
"That Was Something" author Dan Callahan. Photo: Squares & Rebels  

Sometimes a novel feels so true to your lived experience it feels pulled from your own life. That was our sensation reading "That Was Something," a new novel by Dan Callahan (Squares & Rebels). It's the coming-of-age story of a gay NYU student in late-1990s, early-2000s Manhattan, but so redolent of that time and milieu that it rhymed with the vanished world of our own late-20th-century past on both coasts.

Callahan is previously the author of books about screen icons Barbara Stanwyck and Vanessa Redgrave, and also of "The Art of American Screen Acting: 1912-1960." He's clearly a film buff (the novel is dedicated to Jessica Lange), and his characters haunt repertory cinemas such as the Anthology Film Archives to attend Antonioni retrospectives and the like. He evokes the ebbing era of screening rooms, videostores and closeted college boys — not that long ago, but it feels like an ancient age.

"That Was Something" captures that time of our youth when slightly older, charismatic, more fully realized personalities could captivate us completely. It's a novel about youth, and like youth, it's slim (102 pages), fleeting, and always off to the next thing.

Narrator Bobby Quinn is mesmerized by straight boy/phenom art photographer Ben Morrissey ("He was wearing nothing but gray sweatpants and flip-flops, and his luscious sooty curly hair was wet from the shower") and soignee cineaste Monika Lilac ("This was a new mode she was in, a new persona she was trying, a kind of Myrna Loy coolness, and it didn't particularly suit her, but I always wanted to believe in Monika's various impostures, so I gave her all the imaginative attention I could as an audience member.") This is a book for those of us who have or had friends with larger-than-life personalities trapped, alas, in real life. We feel for Bobby in this book, because we were Bobby.


Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait (1920-22), palladium print, mounted on original two-ply rag board, part of An American Journey: The Diann G. and Thomas A. Mann Collection of Photographic Masterworks. Photo: Courtesy Christi  

Photo finish

Speaking of charismatic figures, artist-partners Michael Johnstone and David Faulk celebrated their photography, paintings and colorful costume creations last week at the opening of the retrospective show "Verasphere" at the Harvey Milk Photo Center, 50 Scott St., SF (through Oct. 14). Photos of their greatest creation, Mrs. Vera, tripping the light fantastic around the world are an aesthete's delight. The gallery was packed with friends, fans, and fellow creative souls.

Also last week, Christie's Deputy Chairman for the Americas Ellanor Notides and Christie's International Head for Photographs Darius Himes invited us to a private viewing and cocktail reception to celebrate "An American Journey: The Diann G. and Thomas A. Mann Collection of Photographic Masterworks" at Jules Maeght Gallery. The viewing was of vintage signed prints from such photographer titans as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. These were part of a preview of highlights from an upcoming auction at Christie's in New York on Oct. 4-5.

Out There was particularly taken by a Stieglitz portrait of a "Venetian Gamin, 1894" (auction estimate: $40-60,000); a Steichen "Self-Portrait with Sister, Milwaukee, 1900" ($80-120,000); Walker Evans' "Roadside Stand near Birmingham, Alabama, 1936" ($100-150,000); Edward Weston's "Big Sur, 1929" ($50-70,000); and Man Ray's "Alice Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse), 1924" ($50-70,000). We wish we had tens of thousands of dollars to spare!

We were also excited just to visit Jules Maeght Gallery, the San Francisco outpost for an international family of blue-chip gallerists. The auction preview will be down by the time you read this, but watch for future exhibits there.

Finally, author Michael Nott sent us a note to let us know he'll be visiting San Francisco Oct. 8-25 to research his current project, a book on the late great gay poet Thom Gunn. "I'm looking to speak to as many people as possible who may have known Gunn, especially from bars like The Hole in the Wall and The Stud." Folks who knew Gunn from his life in the Bay Area should feel free to contact Nott at michaeljnott@gmail.com.


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