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NOCTURNES FOR THE KING OF NAPLES by Edmund White (St. Martin's Press: $7.95)

September 11, 1988|ELENA BRUNET

A melodramatic, if not perfervid, collection of letters to a departed lover, by the author of "A Boy's Own Story" and "States of Desire: Travels in Gay America." The language is intimate, poeticized. "A psychiatrist I once knew told me that the unconscious, that irritating retard, can't distinguish between abandoning someone and being abandoned by him. I guess he meant that even though I left you, it's come to seem as though you left me." Since the break-up, the narrator has been heading into "a quiet disaster." To fill the days, there is much loveless promiscuity, cigarette smoking and considerable drinking. He meditates on his past, his childhood and, as an act of will, or recovery, he composes this somewhat baroque and powerful letters-cum-memoir.

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