Quite a book for 1956.
U.S. creep David whiles-away his time procrastinating like a Peter Pan narcissist in Paris, living off friends and indulging himself.
In the process of finding himself (or hiding from himself) David destroys the psyches of two U.S. women and sends a discarded male lover into such a downward spiral he gets executed for murder courtesy of Madame guillotine.
Not a great day for normalizing homosexuality. Like the original edition of Vidal's City and the Pillar, homosexuals are self-loathing and murderous.
* * *
...."What are we staying here for? How long do you want to sit in this house, eating your heart out? And what do you think it's doing to me?" She rose and came to me. "Please. I want to go home. I want to get married. I want to start having kids. I want us to live someplace, I want you. Please David. What are we marking time over here for?"
I moved away from her, quickly. At my back she stood perfectly still.
"What's the matter, David? What do you want?"
"I don't know. I don't know."
"What is it you're not telling me? Why don't you tell me the truth? Tell me the truth."
I turned and faced her. "Hella—bear with me, bear with me—a little while."
"I want to," she cried, "but where are you? You've gone away somewhere and I can't find you. If you'd only let me reach you—!"
She began to cry. I held her in my arms. I felt nothing at all.
I kissed her salty tears and murmured, murmured I don't know what. I felt her body straining, straining to meet mine and I felt my own contracting and drawing away and I knew that I had begun the long fall down. I stepped away from her. She swayed where I had left her, like a puppet dangling from a string.
"David, please let me be a woman. I don't care what you do to me. I don't care what it costs. I'll wear my hair long, I'll give up cigarettes, I'll throw away the books." She tried to smile; my heart turned over. "Just let me be a woman, take me. It's what I want. It's all I want. I don't care about anything else." She moved toward me. I stood perfectly still. She touched me, raising her face, with a desperate and terribly moving trust, to mine. "Don't throw me back into the sea, David. Let me stay here with you." Then she kissed me, watching my face. My lips were cold. I felt nothing on my lips. She kissed me again and I closed my eyes, feeling that strong chains were dragging me to fire. It seemed that my body, next to her warmth, her insistence, under her hands, would never awaken. But when it awakened, I had moved out of it. From a great height, where the air all around me was colder than ice, I watched my body in a stranger's arms.
It was that evening, or an evening very soon thereafter, that I left her sleeping in the bedroom and went, alone, to Nice.
I roamed all the bars of that glittering town, and at the end of the first night, blind with alcohol and grim with lust, I climbed the stairs of a dark hotel in company with a sailor. It turned out, late the next day, that the sailor's leave was not yet ended and that the sailor had friends. We went to visit them. We stayed the night. We spent the next day together, and the next. On the final night of the sailor's leave, we stood drinking together in a crowded bar. We faced the mirror. I was very drunk. I was almost penniless. In the mirror, suddenly, I saw Hella's face. I thought for a moment that I had gone mad, and I turned. She looked very tired and drab and small.
For a long time we said nothing to each other. I felt the sailor staring at both of us.
"Hasn't she got the wrong bar?" he asked me, finally.
Hella looked at him. She smiled.
"It's not the only thing I got wrong," she said.
Now the sailor stared at me.
"Well," I said to Hella, "now you know."
"I think I've known it for a long time," she said. She turned and started away from me. I moved to follow her. The sailor grabbed me.
"Are you—is she—?"
I nodded. His face, open-mouthed, was comical. He let me go and I passed him and, as I reached the doors, I heard his laughter. We walked for a long time in the stone-cold streets, in silence. There seemed to be no one on the streets at all. It seemed inconceivable that the day would ever break.
"Well," said Hella, "I'm going home. I wish I'd never left it."