The Golden Gate
This novel in verse about a group of California yuppies was one of the most highly praised books of 1986 and a bestseller on both coasts.
Can 690 sonnets, rhyming a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d-e-f-f-e-g-g, be a novel? Definitely! First published in 1986 and still fresh (the sole sign of its publication date being the frequent use of the word yuppie), Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate will turn the verse-fearing into admiring acolytes. Janet Hayakawa, a yet-to-be-discovered sculptor and drummer in the Liquid Sheep, secretly places a personal ad for her friend John, even though she too is single. “Only her cats provide distraction,/Twin paradigms of lazy action.” The seventh letter does the trick. Lawyer Liz Donati’s submission is two sonnets in toto and disarms John into meeting her. Soon they fall into brief bliss, as do her brother, Ed, and John’s old college roommate, Phil. Unfortunately, the first couple’s love is too soon destroyed, partly by a pet, partly by politics; and the second is rent by religion. Ed pulls away thanks to the Bible: “I have to trust my faith’s decisions, / Not batten on my own volitions.”
The rest of the novel leads less to the traditional comic ending—rapprochement and marriage all around—than to surprising sadness. But in between there is wit, wordplay, abounding allusion, and some marvelous animals, among them the iguana Schwarzenegger. The author even steps onto the stage on occasion: at a frou-frou publishing party a powerful editor accosts him, curious to hear about his new novel. When Seth tells him it’s in verse, the temperature plummets. “’How marvelously quaint,’ he said, / And subsequently cut me dead.” Luckily, Seth’s real editor did anything but.