White takes fiction out of his story and delivers the facts of his life, sharing his enthusiasms and his passions -- for Paris, for London, for Jean Genet; introducing his lovers and predilections, past and present; and drawing portraits of the interesting and celebrated people of his extraordinary life.
It is such a vital and engrossing book because White has evidently written in it precisely what he wanted to write. He has a luxuriantly observant memory, and his past is evoked with keen feeling as well as a pervasive self-deprecating wit ... If his homosexuality is the governing theme, the sexual impulse itself is the animating principle. The book turns on the illuminating paradox of homosexuality being a struggle, a source, at different times of his life, of 'terrible pain', as well as the most irresistible natural compulsion ... No other writer of White's eminence has described his sexual life with such purposeful clarity. So unusual is it that one feels in writing about it a challenge to the norms of what one can say about the private life of a living writer ... His account of himself is clear, humorous, never coy. He knows that his 'painful honesty' is the source of his humour. And we feel strongly, at the end of this remarkable book, that it is more than that: it is the source of everything, however artful and luscious, that he has ever written.
Like all the best autobiographies My Lives is about something and not about someone. White’s preoccupation here, as in much of his fiction, is with betrayal: whether it is possible to betray oneself, and whether it is possible not to betray other people; and how, if at all, these things are connected ... What is remarkable about My Lives is not that it is Genet-lite, but that it engages with some of the most recalcitrant issues in so-called relationships without resort to fake candour or fake seriousness ... The best chapters in the book are ‘My Hustlers’ – ‘the excitement of ordering up an unknown guy on the phone’ – and ‘My Master’, which is about White’s thrilling sado-masochistic relationship with a young actor. He writes both poignantly and excitingly about sexual encounters, and these chapters are at once gripping and complicated in their emotional nuances.
White, like most writers, has taken inspiration from the struggles, both artistic and personal, of great artists and used them to validate and elevate his own rapprochement with life, and to understand and lend dignity to his own journey from the Mid West to New York and on to Paris and London ... I cannot even begin to estimate how many penises are described in this book, nor how many acts of fellatio, subjugation and - later - sado-masochism are listed. But it is clear that White is determined to transform degradation into saintliness ... This is an astonishing and wonderfully well-written biography, revealing a capacious mind and a generous and remarkable person.