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The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt

The Lost Language of Cranes (1986)

by David Leavitt

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1,002188,537 (3.75)29
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Where's the ending??

Oh no!! This book finished before it had ended. What happened to the relationship between Rose and Owen? What happened about their apartment?? The author forgot to end his story and now I'm left with no resolution.

Owen and Rose are 52 years old, married for 27. They have a son, Phillip, who is 25. Phillip is struggling with his sexuality, realising from an early age that he is attracted to men. When he tells his parents, he finds he is setting free an unstoppable chain of events; for his father has been hiding his similar feelings for over thirty years and secrets can't be kept forever.
The book's excellent descriptions of the characters and their angst are its strengths, but this is very much a character driven book, for there is actually is very little plot.

The Lost Language of Cranes was well out of my comfort zone but it was chosen for a book group, so I gave it a go. It was well written, I liked the author's style, but I'm not a fan of gay literature and this was pretty lurid in parts. In fact, there was more explicit sexual detail, than I'd really like even in my heterosexual reads.

The depiction of the eighties was excellent, not surprisingly, as it was originally published in 1986. Not only did New York emanate a feeling of the times, but Rose and Owen's interactions and lack of questioning within their relationship felt very genuine.
Aids hovered, like a specter in the background, but I'd have expected a bit more fear and alarm about the issue than I felt.

....but to leave so many issues unresolved??? ( )
  DubaiReader | Nov 9, 2014 |
The novel centers around several different gay men in 1980s New York City. Philip is "out" with his friends, but afraid to tell his parents that he's gay. Philip's lover, Eliot, is completely comfortable with who he is, but this makes it surprisingly difficult for Philip and Eliot to relate to each other. Philip's father, Owen, is meanwhile coming to some realizations of his own about his desires, as well as his ability and willingness to continue suppressing them. The era plays a big role in the story, both because it was a time when the older generation started realizing there might be other avenues open to them besides denial and living a "normal" life, and because the specter of AIDS looms large.

Communication gaps, and how we work to make ourselves understood is a recurring theme. Another is the role of confession, specifically whether revealing your secrets is a selfish act or a means to draw you closer to someone. One of the things I enjoyed about the book was that Rose, Philip's mother and Owen's wife, is as fully formed as the other characters. It would be easy to only see her through the filter of the men in her life, but she is a complete person. She faces a changing world in the city in addition to the undercurrents in her family. I found Owen the most difficult to sympathize with, but this may be a generational issue. In the book as a whole, I enjoyed the lack of easy answers or pat emotions.

Recommended for: people interested in stories of family dynamics, anyone who's ever felt alienated.

Quote: "Such efforts of affection were nothing for him; his life had been full of them, pats and caresses and casual kisses, whereas for Philip to touch a hand to a cheek was an action of such magnitude that it had to be counted, treasured, preserved. It radiated power; it demanded bravery. Philip understood that there were people in the world like Eliot for whom love and sex came easy, without active solicitation, like a strong wind to which they only had to turn their faces and it would blow over them. He also understood he was not one of those people." ( )
  ursula | Dec 23, 2013 |
This book is set in NYC in the 1980's. Philip, a young gay man in his 20's is tired of casual 1 night stands and longs for a long term relationship. He falls in love with Eliot and decides that he needs to finally let his parents know that he is gay. Philip's parents, Rose and Owen, are quiet literary intellectuals and have drifted apart over the years. Without the common task of raising their son, they find they have little in common. But more than just boredom in his marriage, Owen finally accepts that he is gay, and has been playing a sham role in his marriage.

This story is an interesting comparison of 3 gay men, all who grow up in very different environments. Owen lives his life as a straight male, Philip grows up in what appears to be a heterosexual family and Eliot, the most comfortable with his sexuality, is raised by 2 gay men. I really enjoyed this book. It was a touching and poignant portrayal of how society and our environment influence our ability to feel comfortable with who we are. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
I’ve heard about this book for years & finally got around to reading it. It’s strongly felt and strongly written, one of the earliest and most honest books about being a gay man in 20th century America. It details with the issues of two men, one an older married man who gradually faces his desires, and the other a younger man who accepts himself but does not accept the possibility of being loved. The wife/mother is finely drawn too. ( )
  astrologerjenny | Apr 24, 2013 |
A well-written novel. Not quite a coming-of-age novel, but rather a coming-to-terms novel detailing the main character's sexual maturation, his decision to reveal his homosexuality to his parents, and the ramifications of the announcement. Although the story line may now seem dated or mundane, the very ordinariness lends a certain sweetness to the story. Especially since it is intertwined with the background of the quickly gentrifying NYC of the 1980s and the effect of change on longtime habits & modes of being of the characters. ( )
  ELiz_M | Apr 6, 2013 |
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Forgive me if you read this ...
I had gone so long without loving,
I hardly knew what I was thinking.

- James Merrill, "Days of 1964"
In memory of my mother, Gloria Rosenthal Leavitt
First words
Early on a rainy Sunday afternoon in November a man was hurrying down Third Avenue, past closed and barred florist shops and newsstands, his hands stuffed into his pockets and his head bent against the wind.
"Hello," Philip said. "This is Philip."
"Philip, it's your father."
"I'm afraid I can't come to the phone right now, but if you'll leave me a message when you hear the beep - "
"Fag, fag, fag, your father is a goddamned fag," Owen screamed into the phone.
" - happy to call you back as soon as I can."
"Fag," Owen said morosely.
"Thank you for calling."
"Fag father of fag son," Owen said.
The beep sounded.
Owen hung up.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 055334465X, Paperback)

A remarkable first novel about a complex family and a marriage suddenly imperiled by the revelation of long-kept secrets; a son's discovery of his own homosexuality, a father's longing to be able to live like his son, and a mother's despair.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:04 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When Philip fall in love with Eliot, he realizes it's time to tell his parents who he is and how he lives. His parents may not be ready for this; they face serious changes in their own lives. This novel is about what we miss- or choose not to see -just beneath the surface of our lives. And what happens when we know too much.… (more)

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