Picks and Pans Review: Virtually Normal

updated 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan, the editor of The New Republic, subtitles his book-length essay "an argument about homosexuality." Part memoir, part disquisition, it is an attempt to think through the question of how gays can fit into society. The autobiographical passages—in which Sullivan, 32, who grew up middle-class in Surrey, England, recalls how he learned to act on an impulse that he first experienced as "an inchoate ache"—are very moving.

The rest is another story. Sullivan lays out, in abstract terms, a survey of what he considers the principal viewpoints—religious, moral and political—about gays. There is something self-absorbedly quaint about this rigorous high-mindedness. It is like watching a child laboring over a 1,000-piece puzzle while all the other kids are playing CD-ROM games. But Sullivan, for the most part a supple stylist, sometimes falls into arid patches.

And, when one finally reaches Sullivan's principal conclusion—he advocates legalized homosexual marriage—he writes with such heartfelt directness and yearning, the rest of the book feels like scaffolding. When those gut moments appear, it's as if he stopped ordering his thoughts, opened his mouth, and out came a Rodgers and Hart ballad. (Knopf, $22)

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