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"I Am Dying, Egypt" by Peter Tuesday Hughes
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"I Am Dying, Egypt" by Peter Tuesday Hughes
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This review first appeared in Vector magazine in 1972.

A Bitter Man’s Travels, International and Internal

Peter Tuesday Hughes has long been one of my two or three favorite gay authors since Come with Me fell into my hands a few years ago, a book which surely contains the best-written descriptions of an act of "oral copulation" (to quote the California Penal Code) I’ve ever read. Hughes has turned out a great deal since then, most of it on the same level and all of it as far as I know, through Greenleaf Classics, a company with which I have had my difficulties in the past. I am Dying, Egypt marks, one hopes, a new beginning for GC – none of the gross typographical errors that were their specialty in the past, with an attractive cover, and a turning away from hot-sex-on-every-page. They are to be congratulated.

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Peter Tuesday Hughes I Am Dying, Egypt. Greenleaf Classics, San Diego: 1972. $1.95

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The take-off point and leitmotif of Hughes’ book is a scene from an old 1930s DeMille flic in which Henry Wilkoxson as Antony falls on his sword and sighs to Claudette Colbert, as Cleopatra, "I am dying, Egypt," An electric moment for the 30s, possibly even a moment of genuine emotion, and Hughes does his best to translate it into the gay angst and the new gay consciousness of the 70s. The plot centers around the search of one Sam Corrigan, an alcoholic beach bum and ex stunt man, for the fist person who manages to stimulate something resembling loving warmth in his chest – an elusive figure sometimes called Johnny Gray. It moves rapidly from the south of Malibu to Cairo to the Pyramid of Kufu to the Lybian desert – a kaleidoscope of drugs, sex, and international intrigue – the details don’t matter. What interested me most were Sam Corrigan’s head, his anxieties, and his Weltanschauung.

Corrigan (read Hughes) is a very bitter disillusioned man indeed, and his reactions to people are a thing to behold. He has heard and recorded in his psyche all the voices from the past and in the society around him that declares knowingly flatly, that gay is plenty bad, mister, and the result is an almost incredible hostility (incredible only if one is not gay) built up in the interests of sheer psychic preservation. Corrigan is haunted to the point of paranoia by these voices, to the point where almost every human relationship is structured as rape, and rape there is in the book, plenty of it, of the most degrading sort. Hughes doesn’t like rape, mind you – he simply sees it as a fact of life; it’s a dog-eat-dog world, he says, in which ordinary human sensibilities have no more chance of survival than a rabbit in a wolf pack, and, as a matter of fact, who is to doubt his statement if he reads the news from An Loc, Harlem, and ITT? Hughes puts a rather fuzzy plot down on payer, but as far as I am concerned it is altogether congruent with reality.

Stylistically, Hughes occasionally falls into a trap shared with several other gay authors that I neither like nor understand. I can only call it "escalation" – that is, if the hero gets orally copulated in Chapter One, he has to commit the "infamous act" (thank you, California Penal Code) in Chapter Two, and by Chapter Nine there isn’t much left beyond, say, incest or outright emasculation to top it all off. I don’t know who is to blame for all this, whether the author or the editor, but in any event the climax of Chapter Eight in Egypt is certainly an example of escalation, and I thought it wholly unnecessary.

In the end, Hughes holds out a slender ray of hope – love, perhaps, and though it may be a bit tensely and strongly redolent of Rudolph Valentino, it beats joining the CIA.

A taut, fast, slender book with some dazzlingly beautiful passages, rewarding and thought-provoking if one reads it carefully.

(But oh, where have all the flowers gone? Is this pessimism going to be the mood of the Nixon 70s?)

-- R. Amory

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