Gossip - Christopher Bram
Shared by:Lizzie Birdsworth
This is so much more than the typical MM genre novels. It is very worthwhile listening. I know I will be getting the rest of his work.
It's about 11 hours.
Here is the NYT review from the original publication:
Cyberscandal By ROBERT PLUNKET, June 1, 1997
Christopher Bram's political satire/murder mystery starts on a chat line.
We are living in an age of scandal, and I, for one, couldn't be happier. I'm convinced that during my mother's recent illness, the O. J. Simpson trial helped her to recover: like someone reading a gripping novel, she simply couldn't put down life until she discovered how the Simpson story ended. (At this rate, she may live until 2040.) We all know our JonBenet junkies. My friend Susan calls me up constantly to talk about the latest theories in the case.
Some people might consider Susan's behavior morbid, but I don't. I'm taking notes. If you write novels for a living, you know that gossip is the crude form of fiction. Henry James got a whole novel - ''Washington Square'' - from a little tidbit he heard from Ellen Terry over tea. Life, with its chance meetings, little lies and chronically unsatisfied lusts, will always outdo fiction. And what can more dramatically illustrate the concept of meeting one's fate than to watch a private figure suddenly caught up in a public scandal? Gossipmongers aren't obsessed with gossip qua gossip; they're grappling with the great issues of our day: Truth, Honor and Justice.
Does contemporary literature serve a role in this new, mostly electronic world order? It certainly seems to shy away from it. Good novels about scandals are few and far between. But when you find one, little can match its fun. Think of how much pleasure ''The Bonfire of the Vanities'' and ''Primary Colors'' gave us. And if Christopher Bram's new novel, ''Gossip,'' doesn't quite hit these glorified heights, it's a wonderfully told tale of human misadventure all the same.
The trick to such books is getting the right mixture of plausibility, satire, empathy and suspense. Mr. Bram does just this, and I can only compliment him in the highest way possible: the outline of his story is a page taken from The National Enquirer. His book is further proof that gossip does have its place in literature - and that this place is an honorable one. A good novel gives you something tabloid television never can - an artist's vision. Although those of us who watch him regularly must admit that Charles Grodin, in his own Nabokovian way, seems to be trying to fill the gap.
''Gossip'' begins very effectively on a chat line in cyberspace. This particular one is gay, as is our hero, a mild-mannered bookstore clerk named Ralph Eckhart. These chat lines allow perfect anonymity: people invent new identities and switch sexes. One night, while Ralph is chatting with the regulars - the Cardinal, Billy Budd, Shanghai Lily - a stranger enters the ''room.'' He is a mysterious man who goes by Thersites (the name of the extremely judgmental truth teller from ''Troilus and Cressida''). Electronic sparks fly between him and Ralph, and a person-to-person meeting is arranged.
Thersites turns out to be one Bill O'Connor, a right-wing journalist who I like to think is based on several real conservative pundits - a composite, say, of David Brock and Andrew Sullivan? Gay Republicans are the latest gay phenomenon. Personally, I think they're an oxymoron. Ralph shares my view. There's just one problem: the guy's really sexy.
A one-night stand might be forgivable, but Ralph goes further. He sees him again, this time in Miami, where Bill is addressing a family values convention. Ralph stumbles upon the book that Bill has just written - a scurrilous antifeminist polemic - and discovers that the tract smears Ralph's best friend from college, an openly lesbian speechwriter who works for a newly elected senator, one of the few women in Congress. (Through hints and innuendo, Bill suggests that Ralph's friend is sleeping with the boss.)
Ralph's moral universe is such that he must drop Bill immediately. To avoid a messy breakup, he ends the affair by E-mail. But unfortunately for Ralph, his best-laid plans go awry. Bill is bludgeoned to death, and there is an electronic trail leading right to Ralph's PC. To his horror, he becomes the chief suspect. Ralph is our representative, the innocent man caught up in our worst nightmare: the more he tries to wiggle free, the more ensnared he becomes.
Every step of his descent is inevitable and terrifying and makes perfect sense. ''Gossip'' becomes a comedy of manners played at its most destructive pitch. Ralph's tiniest missteps have enormous repercussions. A lie backfires, and he ends up in jail. Friends and enemies use him to further their own personal and political agendas. He gives interviews. Benefits are held for him. He even achieves that pinnacle of 15-minute fame, the cover of The New York Post.
Most scandals walk a gruesomely thin line between tragedy and farce. But Mr. Bram, to his credit, nevers lets his subjects become foolish. They are first and foremost understandable human characters - from Nancy, the friend who is a lesbian and has overwrought emotional attachments, to Nick, a burned-out AIDS activist - and invite our sympathy. Most of them are gay, but they happen to be gay, the way subjects of other scandals just happen to be bankers, security guards or parents.
THIS literary terrain is not new to Mr. Bram. He has written five previous novels, all of them grounded in the stories behind newspaper headlines: one is about old-time Hollywood, another is about Vietnam, a third is about a brothel the Government set up during World War II to entrap Nazi sailors. In ''Gossip,'' he presents the reader with just the right blend of moral complexities, woven into a plot with a high entertainment quotient. The three days I spent with ''Gossip'' were the high point of my month. Every moment I kept wishing I could get away from my own disappointingly unscandalous life and get back to the tantalizing world of his novel.
Few novels end well. This one does. A final twist deepens the plot considerably. I thought I was reading a superior piece of literary entertainment, but in its final chapter, ''Gossip'' becomes something much more - an examination of some hard truths about politics, homosexuality and the sort of family values that go straight back to Sophocles. If only more novelists approached their craft with the imagination and skill of Christopher Bram, literature might well achieve what it needs to survive in a world of cyberspace and ''Nightline'' - a much larger share of the scandal market.
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|Gossip Part 1.m4a 97.07 MBs|
|Gossip Part 2.m4a 85.37 MBs|
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