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Grief by Andrew Holleran
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I do not know why, but I could not get into this book.

I picked it up as a "quick read". It's only 150 pages, and I was on a trip and finished my other book, so thought this would be a filler until I got back to my stack of TBRs. This quick read has taken me nearly a month to finish. I couldn't read more than a few pages at a time, and its lack of chapter breaks (there are none) made that a daunting task.

In hindsight, I don't know what I didn't like. The writing was very good, the setting and descriptions of life in Washington, DC were entertaining, and the concept of the book - how individuals handle grief was intriguing. It just didn't tie together.

There were snippets I really enjoyed, and the introduction of Mary Todd Lincoln's letters and how she dealt with grief was an exceptional literary tool to juxtapose the characters' contemporary situations against her historical experience.

And it wasn't a bad book. It just got to a point where I didn't care. Maybe my expectations were off - I thought it was about how they would "deal with" grief - not just exist in it - that the lack of progress for the main character just bored me. ( )
1 vote pbadeer | Oct 24, 2009 |
How do people cope with grief? That's the subject of this small and lovely novel. The narrator, whose mother has recently died after a number of years in a nursing home ("Was it true, as the nurse had said, that families keep their loved ones alive even when the loved ones wish to go? Was that the dark, the nightmare, side of loving care?"), goes to Washington, D.C., as a visiting professor. His landlord has thoughtfully left a number of books in his room, including a volume of Mary Todd Lincoln's letters, on which he muses frequently.

I was very much engaged with this book, and found the use of Mrs. Lincoln as a foil for the narrator intriguing, particularly as I had recently visited the Lincoln Museum in Springfield (IL) and learned much about her that I had not known. It led me to agree with the narrator's landlord, as he describes a scene between Mrs. Lincoln and former Secretary of State William Seward. They meet on a train and he brings her a cup of tea, which she tosses out the window, "tucking her head down and shedding bitter tears”. “What a scene in a movie that would make!” said my landlord. He gazed into the garden. “Why has no one written an opera on this woman?" Good question!

This quote struck me: “What is better than reading in the same room or same house with someone at night? Reading is an activity both communal and seaparate. The lighted lamps, the quiet, the knowledge that my landlord was downstairs, all made me happy: the two of us seemed to constitute a household then; that home for which everyone is looking. In truth, of course, I felt my status as a boarder all the more keenly at such moments.” It contrasts with a similar image used by Paul Monette in his poem, "The House on King's Road":
the wall of books laid brick by brick the lamp
pooling on the blue-bound Plato as we held
our ground through August let the material go
what you cannot buy or have in your name
is the ghost of a touch the glancing stroke
as a man passes through a room where his love
sits reading later much later the nodding head
of the one on the other's shoulder no title
usurps that place this is its home forever

And another definition of home described in the book: “When Nureyev went back to Russia, he said, he was accosted by an old woman who asked him, “Where is home for you?” And Nureyev said, “Home? What is home?” And the babushka replied: “Where someone waits for you.”

I have shared experiences similar to this one: “Class was strange, I told him -- walking back I felt so drained by the seminar on Literature and AIDS, all I wanted to do was get home and lie down. The reason I said was this: That I was in a room once a week at a long table talking about something that for these students was simply a historical event being studied in a seminar made me recall, as I led the discussion, all the people who were no longer alive. Here I am, I frequently thought, sitting in a seminar in Washington, D.C., twenty years later, discussing as a historical event the thing that killed my friends.”

I do urge you to read this one.
  lilithcat | Jun 10, 2009 |
This slim but singularly affecting novel put in an appearance to conditional praise last June and, to my knowledge, sank thereafter without a trace. A meditation on personal loss and the loss of erotic/romantic possibilities for aging homosexual men (and by implication aging everyones) it’s bone-spare but plangent with meaning—the kind of novel that would be immediately hailed if it were written by a laconic European writer.
—Daphne Merkin
  NativeRoses | Jun 4, 2007 |
I know I read it, however, in retrospect, almost nothing stuck with me about this book, other than that Holleran is a fine writer. Not very involving story of a gay man's grieving period in Washington, DC. ( )
1 vote dugmel | Mar 23, 2007 |
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"Reeling from the recent death of his invalid mother, an exhausted, lonely professor comes to our nation's capital to escape his previous life." "What he finds there - in his handsome, solitary landlord; in the city's somber mood and sepulchral architecture; and in the strange and impassioned letters and journals of Mary Todd Lincoln - shows him unexpected truths about America and loss. As he seeks to engage with the living world around him - a challenging student, the mother of a dead friend, even his landlord's neglected dog - he comes to realize that his relationship to his grief is very different than he had thought." "In Grief, Holleran summons voices from the past that eerily echo and speak to our own troubled times. It is a masterwork by one of America's singular voices, a writer who is beloved for his depth of feeling, his humor, the elegance of his prose, and his unflinching honesty."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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