Three Month Fever: The Andrew Cunanan Story.
Like an unkillable film freak in a grade-B horror flick, Andrew Cunanan's back and ready for another close-up. His resurrection is the result of two new books, one by a gay literary bad boy and the other by a straight sensational journalist. Suffice it to say that neither writer's lurid representation of queer life will be garnering them any GLAAD Media Awards.
With his fictional oeuvre of hustlers, drug addicts, and miscellaneous self-delusionists, Gary Indiana seems the perfect person to chronicle the sordid last few months of Andrew Cunanan, accused of five killings, including the July 15, 1997, shooting death of fashion mogul Gianni Versace. In fact, as Indiana claims in his ambitious and unconventional nonfiction-infused Three Month Fever, there's a little Cunanan in everyone. He's simply another product of the celebrity economy that taints us all.
In his piercing preface Indiana writes, "One could usefully argue that many of American society's most admired figures, its so-called role models, from CEOs to movie stars, including some of Versace's most audible mourners after the event, could easily qualify as sociopaths, the culture of narcissism having segued some years ago into the culture of total-self-aggrandizement-by-whatever-means-present-themselves." In an era that turns fellating interns into superstars, it's hard to dispute such points.
More controversial, however, is his ensuing narrative. Indiana dares to imagine the murderer's private actions, dialogue, and innermost thoughts as he follows Cunanan's course from poor bourgeois wanna-be to cold-blooded killer. A hubristic tour de force of nerve and imagination, the book engrosses the reader while indicting the celebrity consumerism exemplified for Indiana by both the person and murder of Versace. He writes: "What we are watching is A Tale of Two Fags that illustrates, in no uncertain terms, which sort of whore it's appropriate to boo-hoo about, and what sort of fag you can safely invite to dinner."
Ironically, it's precisely Indiana's depiction of the Cunanan-Versace connection within the book that feels thinnest and least developed. Indiana creates a Cunanan persona hungry for acceptance from a growing list of rejecting users that makes his murder of the only two men he ever "loved" seem psychologically plausible. Yet his subsequent killings of Chicago real estate magnate Lee Miglin and Versace don't have the same credible force. Indiana characterizes his book as "fact-based, but with no pretense to journalistic `objectivity,'" intending to make Cunanan "palpable to the reader as a person." But most sociopaths don't become serial killers, and Indiana doesn't satisfactorily clarify Cunanan's transformation, creating a protagonist who's entertainingly enigmatic at best, an exploited caricature at worst.
Maureen Orth, on the other hand, is a writer with definite pretenses to journalistic objectivity. Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History is an apt description for a rather sensational account of the murderer and his milieu. Rife with scammers, scrubs, and snakes, this 444-page tome leaves no stone unturned regardless of what slugs it uncovers.
To be sure, Orth is a hard-boiled, detail-obsessed reporter, but her Hard Copy prose and penchant for salacious detail cast a tawdry patina over this sporadically informative book. In her attempt to conjure a lethal subculture that fostered Cunanan's values, Orth selectively combs the gay world and conflates her "findings" into sensational generalizations that not so subtly encompass all gay men. She cites a "rigid `cult of masculinity,' prevalent in urban gay ghettos, fueled by drugs and the promise of hot sex" as part of the "dictates of gay status" that determined Cunanan's life. Orth never considers that those gay "dictates" are neither uniform nor inescapable, that not all socially thriving metropolitan gay young men are "pumped, hairless `muscleboys (as she later defines this "cult"), and that those who are don't all do drugs.
On the subject of unsafe sex, she's no less cavalier: "Popular now, especially among young gays and those already infected with AIDS, is the practice of `barebacking' while on crystal." But she offers no statistical support or sociological context of such "popular" practices; she merely makes them seem commonplace. And in excavating the killer's motives, Orth cites some of the most clueless representatives from the gay community, including one nincompoop who states, "In the gay world you're either very good-looking or you're very wealthy in order to obtain any comment or be invited anywhere." Apparently Orth believes that anyone with an opinion qualifies as a valid source.
When she isn't proclaiming leather as gay code for "S/M"--which will surely surprise many leather lovers--or stating that "porn stars are the supermodels of the gay world," Orth reveals a few useful nuggets (her disclosure of Versace's HIV-positive status is certainly not among them since it sheds no light on the case). Particularly keen is Orth's depiction of the FBI's aversion to interacting with the Miami gay community in order to alert them of a possible predator, suggesting that Cunanan could have been caught sooner and Versace's murder averted. But ultimately Orth is too mired in shocking us with a destructive lifestyle broadly ascribed to gay men. Of course, all this media dirt couldn't have pleased the attention-starved Cunanan more. For this soiled reader, however, it's enough to make me want a long, hot bath.
Bahr writes for The New York Times, Time Out New York, and New York magazine.
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|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Apr 13, 1999|
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|Next Article:||Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History.|