1949-01-27

American author, essayist and cultural critic ETHAN MORDDEN was born today. His stories, novels, essays, and non-fiction books cover a wide range of topics including the American musical theater, opera, film, and, especially in his fiction, the emergence and development of contemporary American Gay culture as manifested in New York City. He has also written for The New Yorker, including fiction, Critic At Large pieces on Cole Porter, Judy Garland, and the musical Show Boat, and reviews of a biography of the Barrymores and Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus.

His best known fictional works are the inter-related series of stories known collectively as the “Buddies” cycle. In book form, these began with 1985’s I’ve a Feeling We’re not in Kansas Anymore. The fifth in the series, 2005’s How’s Your Romance?, is subtitled Concluding the “Buddies” Cycle. Together, the stories chronicle the times, loves, and losses of a close-knit group of friends, men who cope with the challenges of growing up and growing older. In this circle of best friends, teasing putdowns become performance art, but none of the friends ever attacks any other friend’s sensitive spots.

Mordden thus breaks away from the Gay model proposed by Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band, in which supposed best friends assault one another relentlessly in a style that has bedeviled gay art ever since, for instance in the television series Queer As Folk. Mordden’s ideal of Gay friendship presents men who genuinely like themselves and one another. They are unique in Gay lit in that they respect the limits of privacy. This explains their devotion to one another: this “family” is a safe place.