Gary Indiana is a gay writer, director, actor, critic and artist who recently published his memoir I Can Give You Anything But Love. In a few hundred pages it drifts from his life in Cuba, to growing up in New Hampshire, to his early adult years in California and then New York.
In interviews Indiana has commented that he does not consider himself to be a gay writer, however his memoir uncovers a long list of male lovers and sexual exploits. He made a conscious decision not to include people in his memoir who are well-known. He also did not talk about the AIDS crisis except for one passing reference, even though he has written about it in novel form, and was close friends with Ferd Eggan, an AIDS activist and HIV coordinator in Los Angeles from 1993 to 2001. Each of these were conscious decisions by Indiana, who has said that he wanted to write something brisk, entertaining and thoughtful. He did not want to write a tell-all.
I came across the book as a recommendation from one of those lists of LGBT books to read for 2015. I have not read any of his earlier work, and had not heard of him before until I came across this memoir. So I was surprised to read in his interviews about the book that he had deliberately omitted his relationships with more well-known people. But I do wonder if they are actually well-known or only if Indiana thinks they are. There were a few names dropped in the memoir as if the reader should know who they were. I did not.
That said, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. I think Gary met his aims in creating something that was brisk (260 pages in medium font, with a blank page between chapters), enjoyable and thoughtful. In fact some of the best parts of the book were his insights about some part of gay life or about a place (usually New York, Havana or Los Angeles) that only took up one sentence.
The title of the book, although a bit odd, makes sense as you read through. In spite of many relationships with different men, he does not fall in love, and the men he meets do not fall in love with him. However we don’t know if Indiana is incapable of love (I think he is capable), or if he thinks he is undeserving of it. Either way most of the relationships in the memoir are either transactional, functional or one-directional. This memoir does not contain heart break, or much to stir you one way or the other. Even the most distressing details of his life story are treated with a sort of indifference when he reflects back.
My favourite part of the memoir was the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but it ties the whole piece of work together, and suddenly a lot of what comes before, which look like ramblings, make sense, and have purpose. However, even though I enjoyed the book, I did not feel many other emotions towards it. It read like a pleasant conversation on the train, or a visit to a mediocre art gallery. Something that you will enjoy at the time, but won’t remember much about afterwards either way. I think part of this is Indiana’s seeming indifference to his own life. I don’t think he is indifferent to his own life, but it came across that way at many points in the memoir. It could be that he didn’t want to reveal what he was passionate about, or that he wanted us to make up our own minds, or that he thought he was expressing passion but it was too subtle for me to pick up on.
In some ways this thwarts our expectations of a memoir. Memoirs are often about achievement (or trying to achieve), our emotional journey, or the characters we’ve shared our lives with. There is almost none of this in Indiana’s memoir. Indiana tried to do something different with the genre. He tried to give it an artistic treatment. However because he thwarts the typical conventions, I have less of an idea of who he is as an individual (or who he wants us to think he is), than I would of other memoirists. We don’t learn anything about his art in the book, but in how he constructs the memoir as a whole, I think I understand from this book how he is as an artist. In that sense he might consider his job done. However, part of me is waiting for a sequel where we he tells us what he really feels about the different stages of his life, instead of what we got here, where he doesn’t seem to feel much about anything.