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Burnett, Allison: 'The House Beautiful'

A classic archetypal form, the gay male wit, is an irresistible accompaniment to a comic novel. Irresistible even to straight authors, it would seem, if Allison Burnett is any indication.

Burnett, shown at left, who is straight, first introduced his bipolar, alcoholic gay male narrator in his debut 2001 novel, “Christopher.”

“The wittiest people I know have all been gay men and I wanted him to be able to go from high to low comedy, to be able to quote from virtually any and all of English literature and I wanted him to be full of barbs and retorts and witticisms,” Burnett says. “It would have been very hard to create a character like this who was straight.”

So Burnett, 47, created B.K. Troop, with whom he was so enchanted that “The House Beautiful,” the second book featuring the lovable character, was published this month, and a third novel is due out in the summer of 2007.

“The House Beautiful” finds Troop as the landlord of an artist’s haven in Manhattan. Troop rents the rooms for cheap, but rigidly enforces the rules of what he thinks will make the best possible colony for the artistic.

The flesh is, of course, never far from Troop’s mind in determining who his tenants will be, and when an attractive young man whom Troop thinks is a lyric poet arrives, he could not be happier. The summer holds surprises for many residents of the “The House Beautiful.”

Burnett has always had gay male friends, he says, and the unreliable mental state of B.K. Troop made any errors, historical or otherwise, forgivable. “One of the great things about having a narrator who’s chemically unbalanced and alcoholic [is] there’s no necessity to be correct about anything,” says Burnett, who adds that the character’s mentally ill state was not intended to be a representation of gay people.

“You have to have faith that people don’t think this one gay character is meant to be all gay people,” Burnett says. “There are other gay characters in the book who are sane and completely different from him.”

Along with discovering his own gay voice, Burnett has begun to inhabit the world of the gay author — especially when it comes to promoting his book. “When ‘Christopher’ was finished, only then did I realize the full impact of what I had done,” Burnett says. “The good side was that I had a built-in audience, which was the gay audience. The downside was that it’s very hard to get past the gay audience.”

Although Burnett adds that he is grateful for the gay audience, he says that writing novels that have been relegated only to the gay section of the bookstore has allowed him to empathize with gay writers. “They are really isolated,” Burnett says. “The marginalization is really profound. It’s not that way with black literature. A lot of minority literature is really embraced by the mainstream, but somehow it hasn’t happened in gay literature yet.”

Perhaps the reaction of Burnett’s straight male friends could provide a clue as to why much of gay literature remains outside the mainstream. “I was surprised by the reaction of straight liberal men,” Burnett says. His friends were “supposedly liberal,” he says — they supported gay rights, were friends with gay people — but still were uncomfortable with Burnett’s choice of narrator.

“When it came right down to it, for them to spend time in the mind and loins of gay men, it made them uncomfortable,” Burnett says. “It made them concerned for me.” Burnett has never been a typical straight male, however, so their concerns were not his concerns.

“It’s so funny in a way to be named Allison,” Burnett says, whose father and son are also named Allison. “I’ve always been full of many contradictions. I had an earring in the ‘70s when nobody did but gay men and maybe pirates.”


Added:  Sunday, November 05, 2006
Reviewer:  editor
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Language: eng