Thirty-seven years ago, Coltsfoot Press, Amsterdam, brought out Bob Henderson’s Attic Adolescent, a novel cast as a series of interrelated, pederastic short stories – eight of them – capped off by a big one which, properly termed, is a novella. The setting is Greece in the Seventies, the narrator (David) an occasional author of peripatetic nature. Figuring in the book’s events are three friends of the narrator, one woman (Juliana) and two men (Christopher, Tony), and a succession of native teens.
The cut-and-dried description above may suggest writing that is clichéd. It isn’t. Henderson, who authored much-appreciated stories found in the once widely-known Acolyte Readers, was an experienced hand at turning clichéd situations of his invented man-boy relations into psychologically absorbing tales for sympathetic readers.
Henderson’s ability enables him to conjure the physical appearances and quirky, immaturity of Andreas, Takis, Pavlos, Achilles, Nikos, Stelios, Stavros, Spiros and, ultimately, Vassili – and to cast light, particularly through astutely-wrought conversations (sometimes quite cleverly smart-ass), on the baffling happinesses and disappointments of boy-love. Insightfully, he takes us into David’s thoughts as each new infatuation seizes him, engages him to distraction, raises doubts about the equation’s imbalanced two sides, and ultimately must suffer what often are heartbreaking outcomes.
David is kept going not by the counsel of his adult friends. Emotions don’t work that way. Rather, his belief in the illusions of reciprocal emotions is what sustains and heartens him. Logically, he knows that what is passion for the one is but play for the other. He thinks his wisdom and support, kindly offered, will help the attractive objects of his attention through their adolescence. They prove to be decidedly uninterested.
For the most part, those idolized, idealized beings willingly accept and submit to the meaningless, momentary thrills of David’s lips, fingers, palms, tongue and cock in exchange for favors such as overnight hospitality (when convenient for them), meals and drink in public, trinkets and more substantial gifts (offered, requested, demanded), and drachmas. The more these liaisons cost David’s dwindling bank account and erode his emotions, the more he longs for erotic rapport and a settled life with one of these teen cyphers whose code, alas, he cannot break.
To himself, he seems aware that the tugs of impossible love render him their victim. Yet, sustained by fantasy, he persists. He will persist. Friend Tony buoys him with a toast, “Here’s to pederasty. Long may it flourish.”
Far from pornography’s easy stimulus, Attic Adolescent affects its readers by probing sensitive areas of existence with realistic grace and humor.
Reviewed by FC, 4 July 2017.