I Can Give You Anything But Love

by Gary Indiana (Rizzoli)

Gary Indiana has written a new book, and it’s a memoir. (Well, as he told the Paris Review earlier this year, it’s “a kind of memoir, but we’re not calling it that.”) And if you have any sense at all, you’ll be excited by this news.

The author of several novels as well as plays, films, and art criticism—and a video artist whose work was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial—Indiana has been doing interesting work for decades now, but in all this time he has failed to become well known outside of certain underground circles. Though one assumes Indiana is uninterested in celebrity, it’s a shame his writing isn’t more widely read. He is hilarious, insightful, pissed-off, and profane—and occasionally, guardedly, a tiny bit tender, too.

Though his fiction has sometimes been autobiographical, I Can Give You Anything But Love is Indiana’s first real stab at telling his life story. The book can only be described as a complete success. It is engrossing, enlightening, and—though he may find it hard to believe, as he can be so harsh in his self-assessment—totally sympathetic.

Born in rural New Hampshire in 1950, Indiana came of age at a time and in a place when being gay was necessarily a secret. That’s not to say he was unsuccessful in his early attempts to meet boys: Indiana recalls his adolescence as a series of clandestine affairs. At 19 he begins his tenure in a crumbling hippie mansion in the Haight, a bleary experiment in communal living with a changing roster of fellow freaks that resulted in the odd art project, but whose main focus was on complicated love relationships (and some good-natured gonzo pornography). Later he moves south, gets into punk, and works in Watts. Some of the scenarios from his lonely personal life are downright squalid—the nights he spends in Los Angeles bars and drug dens are especially dark—but his use of language is so impeccable that every story glows with the warmth of his intelligence.

Scenes from Indiana’s early life are intercut with depictions of his present-day one, in the huge apartment in Havana where he has lived, off and on, for many years. We join him as he drinks coffee on his sun-washed balcony and drifts down to the street to feed the stray cats there. He lets us in on his thought process, too, as he attempts to write the book we’re reading, and we get the sense that he isn’t entirely convinced that his fascinating stories would be of much interest to anyone else.

It’s so refreshing. At 65, Indiana displays a real lack of attitude (outside of the sour-grapes remarks he makes about people who have hurt him, and his shockingly unflattering characterization of ex-friend Susan Sontag: delicious!). He is, as the title suggests, jaded when it comes to the idea of himself in love, but in all other aspects the writer is fresh as a daisy—open to new experiences, self-deprecatingly modest, and full of youthful vigor. Reading this book, you could get the idea that he has spent the last 40 years doing nothing but hook up with gorgeous young men and read, read, read. But that’s only because the memoir ends before he’s published his first book, on the day he up and moves to New York. Clearly, there’s more to this story. Dare we hope for a second volume? This reviewer certainly will.