SUNDAY

It sounds like the premise of a really twisted gay porn comedy: The young William James, not-yet-philosopher and brother of novelist Henry, flees the upscale mental hospital where he’s recovering from a debilitating attack of determinism-induced despair. With nothing but 40-odd dollars and a copy of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick to his name, James heads to New York, where he takes up as a volunteer at the Newsboys’ Lodging-House, a kind of combination hostel/wet dream for orphaned paperboys willing to forgo the pleasures of smoking and swearing in exchange for a roof over their heads. Why, the mind reels at the comic and erotic possibilities. But the sad truth is that Jon Boorstin’s The Newsboys’ Lodging-House: Or The Confessions of William James, a Novel isn’t smut; it’s literature, and not very interesting literature at that. It turns out Boorstin’s intentions are every bit as honorable as James’, and that the goings-on at the Newsboys’ Lodging-House are about as sexless as a Doris Day-Rock Hudson love scene. James proves to be an earnestly boring narrator, full of Victorian probity. There’s some humor in the scenes depicting the pampered James’ attempts to earn a living, and the chapters on Jemmie Hickok—the newsboy who must confront the lures of the fast life—are mildly diverting (if overly sentimental). Overall, though, The Newsboys’ Lodging-House is a historical novel that’s short on novelty and long on history. And philosophical history at that. It kills me to think what Quentin Crisp could have done with this material. Boorstin’s in town at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 30, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Michael Little)