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314459,021 (3.65)18
A pensive, creative, and haunting novel that speaks expressly to the heart without sentimentality, by the author of Dancer from the Dance (1978), an important novel from the 1970s-'80s gay-lit renaissance. The title of Holleran's new novel states its theme. He offers the story of a middle-aged gay man heading to Washington, D.C., to live and teach for a short term, to get away from his hometown after his mother's death. He takes a room in an elegant townhouse owned by another middle-aged gay man, who is slowly and quietly grieving over the loss of youthful energy, attractiveness, and prowess. While living in Washington and commiserating with his landlord and the friend they have in common over the loss of lives the tsunami of AIDS caused in the '80s, he rather accidentally picks up a volume containing the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln, and he is taken by her grief and sense of displacement after her husband's death and ends up reading every page. His plan, however, especially in coming to Washington, is to start life over again, which Mrs. Lincoln was never able to do--her grief and loneliness became a deep well from which she couldn't escape. Holleran's "message"--that grief is never avoidable for any of us--is so sensitively rendered that it never impedes the swift development of the story line. - from Booklist (ALA)… (more)



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» See also 18 mentions

Showing 4 of 4
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 separate. 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 |
Showing 4 of 4
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I mean the only cure for grief is time, but some people need more than others—some people in fact may never have enough time.  It everyone can move on...
Everyone here is so middle class, even the fags want to be married. (Frank)
...men his age were not attracted to one another. “They’re all looking for someone younger...Just like straight men.” (Frank)
Reading is a activity both communal and separate.
The curious thing about Washington is that a city set apart for the whole nation cannot be claimed by any single citizen—many of whom regard it as their home nevertheless.
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