Although it presents itself as a historical speculation on the last days of the author Stephen Crane, Hotel de Dream is mostly an excuse for Edmund White to write The Painted Boy, his imagining of Crane’s final work, which takes up almost half of Hotel’s pages. The novella-within-a-novel is stylistically impeccable — as you would expect from White, one of the most proficient living writers — even if it shows an interest in homoerotic obsession that Crane never displayed. The Painted Boy hits even harder as a story because we see it being written. We watch Crane, sick and gradually dying, dictate his final work to his wife, Cora. Crane’s obsession with finishing the story mirrors the sexual obsession of his protagonist, and the line between the literary and the erotic is blurred, if not erased altogether. In the meantime, a cameo from Henry James gives White a further workout for his mimicry skills, appearing as one of the most straight-
forwardly comic characters White has ever rendered. Somewhere in Ireland, Colm Toibin is wringing his hands.