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A Stone Boat
by Andrew Solomon

To: ALL Date: 09/08 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 5:25 PM A STONE BOAT by Andrew Solomon A beloved mother's death and its of the authentic achievements in American fiction. ---Harold Bloom Very high praise indeed, and I dont blame the designers of the paperback for putting that quote directly between the title and the author, as if it were the subtitle. This is a book I would never have found on my own, since it was placed in the gay and lesbian section of the book store. The narrator is gay and joint themes in the book are his mother coming to terms with his homosexuality and his coming to terms with his mothers reaction. But dont we all have similar crises of identity to hammer out with our family? Substitute religion, or lack thereof; substitute any life choice that might run counter to what parents think is best for child. Just substitute growing up. Its a timeless struggle that anyone can identify with. In truth, the homosexual issue is a secondary theme. This is the story of a very happy family (a literary rarity indeed!) that is in the process of losing its main character, the mother. She reminds me of Charity (was that her name?) in CROSSING TO SAFETY. Im not always charitable to the Charities of the world. I have a very personal aversion to women who insist upon their idea of perfection, so its hard for me to remain an unbiased reader. But her familys struggle in the face of her cancer is heartbreaking. I know that the mother dies, but I have not come to that part yet. I know because it is part of Blooms subtitle, and the writing points to it. Im very interested in finding out how Harry (the narrator) grows and develops after her death. Please read with me and let me know what you all think. Sherry, still unable to put in those apostrophes =============== Reply 1 of Note 11 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 09/08 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 7:15 PM All you CRs! READ THIS BOOK! Then come contribute to our discussion, which I'm sure is going to be a good one. Like Sherry, I never would have found this book on my own. It would have languished in the G&L section, because I never think of going over there. I'm going to recommend that my bookstore friend put it in with the general novels, because I don't think the theme in this book is so much a coming to terms with the narrator's sexuality as it is about love and how we deal with it. Is there such a thing as too much love? What are the faces of love? Can perfect love be too perfect? Come on, everybody, this is going to be a good one to chew over. Ruth =============== Reply 2 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/08 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:25 PM EEK!! I haven't started the book yet, and I will have very little time in the next two weeks to read. Plus I have two other books that I am currently reading and want to finish. But, I WILL read it once I finish the BURGUNDY STARS book that I posted about last week. Jane, in a tizzy =============== Reply 3 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/08 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 9:26 PM Well, Sherry, I am feeling pretty good because I actually finished the assignment ahead of time for a change. So perhaps I will escape from the general hanging, drawing and quartering after all. I am hoping other people will be ready to join the discussion soon. I am very curious about others' reactions to this book. I got on HOMEWORK HELPER last night, but didn't find any reviews of the book itself, and only a couple of references to "Andrew Solomon". One article about "eligible" New Yorkers listed a 31 year old novelist named Andrew Solomon who just happens o have a trust fund of $100 million. Another referred to an Andrew Solomon who had published an article recently about how he and his brother had helped their mother , who was suffering from ovarian cancer, commit suicide. What do you think? I think that's our man in both cases. I am very curious to know just how biographical this book is. Writing fiction, of course, gives you the opportunity to relive the past the way you wish it had happened, and Harry, the main character, is an incredibly devoted son. Both of my parents have died within the last 5 years, so in some ways this book was easy for me to relate to, although my experiences were quite different. In part this may be because I was never close to my mother. Yet I can't say that I envy Harry his relationship with his mother. It struck me as a smothering kind of love, one that made it difficult for him to love anyone else. This mother was too concerned with appearances - the perfect clothes, flowers, menu, dinner plates, crystal - and far too controlling for my tastes. Sherry, your comparison of her to Charity in CROSSING TO SAFETY was perfect. There are passages of really beautiful writing in this book. I particularly liked the following because it expresses something I have felt but could never put into words: "Some days, I dream of a life without sequence, a life all mixed up like a crazy salad, in which, when you suddenly yearn for a week of childhood, you can have a week of childhood, in which, when you miss the quality of your grandmother's voice singing, you can find again your grandmother singing, in which, when you want a stretch of the calm maturity of middle age, you can settle into a stretch of it. I would love to move back and forth, to have days saved like summer flowers caught forever in winter ice, days that I knew were waiting for me. ...what I wanted was not to be with my mother every second of every day (a programme well calculated to drive us both mad), but to be with my mother from time to time for the rest of my days." Just think how wonderful it would be to spend a day every once in a while with your kids when they were babies or to be able to pick up the phone and call your Dad again. Time is a difficult thing. Ann =============== Reply 4 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/08 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 11:11 PM Anne, I did a Net search because I too, was curious about how autobiographical this novel was. It just had that kind of ring to it. I found one reference which said this is the same guy that wrote a NYer article about his mother's death and that this book is indeed autobiographical. I'll say no more lest I be a plot spoiler. Ruth =============== Reply 5 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/10 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 11:14 PM Ruth and all, I started A STONE BOAT while I was waiting for *P to update my e-mail. Any book that starts out in Paris has to be good, n'est-ce pas? Jane who finished BURGUNDY STARS this evening also =============== Reply 6 of Note 11 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 09/11 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:15 AM I thought you'd like the Paris part, Jane. Ruth =============== Reply 7 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/12 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 2:17 PM Hi, all. I finished the book yesterday. I did look up Andrew Solomon at a library; I checked the periodical index abstract (abstract index?), which listed about sixty articles in magazines such as House and Garden, the NY Times Magazine, Art Forum, and The New Yorker. Many appeared to be about art and design, particularly Soviet art. My guess is that Andrew Solomon is a Solomon Brothers (the investment bank) Solomon; did any of you guys find this in your research? Are we talking about the book yet or are we waiting until more folks jump in? --Susan =============== Reply 8 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/12 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 7:28 PM Susan, I figured he must be connected to Solomon Brothers too after I read about the $100 million trust fund. I think we're ready to discuss this book. I'd love to hear your reactions. Ann =============== Reply 9 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/13 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 11:09 AM Ann, I *love* that quote. What a lovely idea. I would love to go back and get some days with my mother when I was a little girl and, oh for those first days with my boys as babies again.... Would also love to go back to the drives in the country with my dad, a large animal vet, while I rode with him on his calls and we sang "Found a Peanut" off-key. What a nightmare it would be if you lost control though. There are some days in high school that I definitely wouldn't want to drop into by mistake! Barb =============== Reply 10 of Note 11 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 09/13 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:39 PM Barbara & Ann, I've read that this book is autobiographical. Perhaps in some way, it's Solomon's way of doing just that, choosing days to relive again through his writing. Ruth =============== Reply 11 of Note 11 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 09/13 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 1:48 PM Sherry, This is off-topic (of the book) but has to do with apostrophes... are you writing your note in Word, say, and then using the copy/paste buffer to copy it to a post? If so, I think you can clear up the problem either by saving the note to text and then inserting, or maybe by simply changing the font to Courier (I think) so that your apostrophes are just those short little strokes rather than the fancier strokes that are curved one way or t'other. I might just experiment with this a bit to see if the font thing is true! Procrasting as always, Lynn =============== Reply 12 of Note 11 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 09/13 From: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Time: 1:55 PM P.S. No, that doesn't quite do it. What does work though is to save the note as text, close the file, and open it back up (you'll notice that the apostrophes have gone from whatever style they were in to straight up and down). At this point you can use the copy/paste buffer to copy from Word to prod. note. Or else, when the file is closed, just import the text file. Lynn =============== Reply 13 of Note 11 =================  
To: FNMN56E LYNN EVANS Date: 09/14 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 4:11 PM Hi, everybody. By the end of A STONE BOAT, I came to admire it. Out of all the characters, the mother became the one that I liked, and this, to me, is one of Solomon's successes. That said, I spent out the first third of the novel wanting to hurl it against the wall, irritated by the family's claustrophobic relationship and by what seemed to be European affectations--all those cold suppers, toasted breakfasts, and drinks parties. (Some of this, of course, has to do with the book's having been first published in England, I'm sure.) Now, that I think about it, though, my reaction was perhaps similar to those of Harry's lovers; I> felt shut out. The chapter "Three Loves" was my favorite because it was about such a human reaction to really bad news coming down the pike, to get lost in a series of affairs. I enjoyed this chapter's eroticism, too, especially in the scene at the club where everybody gets naked. I don't quite understand, though, what the narrator (Harry) is talking about when he says, "that the sublime is a matter of exchanging easier for more difficult pleasures." The narrator doesn't talk about God, does he? (Unless I read this entirely too fast and missed it, which is possible.) He goes out of his way not to talk about > religion at all. Why do you think this is? For a completely different treatment of a mother's dying, I'd recommend E. M. Broner's GHOST STORIES. Broner uses humor to tell her story, something that I missed in A STONE BOAT. Her prose is also a lot more pared down than Solomon's. As far as the Bloom quote goes, doesn't Bloom teach at Yale, the author's alma mater? Solomon thanks him in the acknowledgements. Is it possible that Bloom is a former teacher or a friend? Do you agree with Bloom's assessment of the book, though? I, too, liked the crazy salad part. And the stone boat> passage itself. Were you guys really sad when the mother died? Did you feel like you knew these characters well? Why does Harry's mother keep insisting he have a girlfriend? (One of her last wishes is to leave her jewelry to her daughters-in-law. Distinctly plural!) It definitely seems like there's a lot to talk about here. One last thought. I also came to admire Solomon's completely portrait of a world, one in which patients get better rooms because they give a wing to a hospital, in which small museums are rented for parties, where money is absolutely no consideration. He does this unapologetically> which I think he should. The completeness of Solomon's depiction of Harry's world reminds me of Terry McMillan's WAITING TO EXHALE, with its portrayal of the professional black women in Phoenix. Neither is a world I know well, but both Solomon and McMillan give their readers good looks at these milieus. That is something that I appreciate. And, really, that's one of the reasons I read. Susan =============== Reply 14 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/14 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 5:46 PM Wow, what parties! Now that I've got that off my chest, let me admit that I had a bit of regret that about the homosexuality issue. It's been such a cliche (and now out of favor) that homosexual men are the product of a controlling mother, or at least the product of a too intense relationship with their mother. I found myself wishing that this idea wasn't floating around to muddy the waters of the book. Ruth =============== Reply 15 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/14 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 8:25 PM Susan and Ruth, Glad you got the real discussion going here. I definitely think that this book is worth reading, but it was about a world that is very foreign to me -- tons of money, great concern with superficial style, the suffocatingly affectionate mother, New York, gay love affairs, etc. Some of the writing was exceptional, but by the end of the book the author was ready for the mother to die, and so was I. gail is currently rereading Anna Quindlen's ONE TRUE THING, which also deals with the death of a dying mother who commits suicide. Quindlen's book touched me much more deeply than Solomon's. Maybe it was because the heroine's relationship with her mother was both more distant (whose wouldn't be compared to Harry's?) and more ambivalent. I could relate to that. Also, the secondary characters, particularly the husband, were much better drawn. I wonder if Solomon's book was so closely based on reality that he felt he had to keep the father and brother in the shadows. Susan, I had an opposite reaction to the chapter detailing the homosexual orgy--oops, I mean party scene. I kept wanting to shout, hey, guys, hasn't anyone ever hear of AIDS? Must be my conservative Midwestern upbringing. What did you think about Harry's heterosexual affair with Helen? Yeah, and what about that Helen, who was certainly a mother figure if I ever saw one? Susan, I have absolutely no idea what the author meant by "the sublime is a matter of exchanging easier for more difficult pleasures." If anyone else does, I would really like to hear your thoughts. The chapter detailing Harry's love affair with Nick, struck me as very sad, but I guess that was the point. Ruth, good point about this story implying that the domineering mother was to blame for Harry's homosexuality. The author also seemed to hold her accountable for Harry's inability to have a successful romantic relationship with either sex. (Believe me, I had a lot of sympathy for Bernard). One thing that I found very appealing about this story was that the mother was allowed to choose the timing of her own death and was able to exit was so much dignity. I am not sure how realistic that was. In my experience, death is far uglier. But, given the absence of all hope, that is how I would like to leave. Sherry, I think it was you who mentioned that this book is on college reading lists. Do you know the courses? Ann =============== Reply 16 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/15 From: KGXC73A GAIL SINGER GROSS Time: 1:43 AM greetings AMAZING ANN.. on college reading list..yes..i too must know about this... kindly post.. i used to waltz over to the SAN FRANCISCO STATE BOOkstore at the beginning of each semester to go through the books to get a handle on what the professors are prescribing!:-) enjoying your discussion....will not be reading this book...however you all give it such high marks...glad you had a good journey... gail..hp..a p r..rain in san francisc =============== Reply 17 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/15 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 2:09 AM Glad you brought up the AIDS thing. Not only did I want to stand around handing out condoms during the partyparty scene, but what about Helen? Was she nuts? Falling into bed with a homosexual who she knows has been sleeping around? Solomon could have given us a nice dose of reality here and he blew it. Ruth =============== Reply 18 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/15 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 9:28 AM Ann, I said THE BONE PEOPLE was on college reading lists. I've never heard of A STONE BOAT before. I would have liked to read the entire Bloom review. I think there were parts of this book which were exceptional and parts where I almost threw the book against the wall, too. But I thought it ended spectacularly. He quit describing scenes and actually put us there, instead of removing us. The section about the red pills and red fingernails, etc., was riveting. Sherry =============== Reply 19 of Note 11 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 09/15 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 10:39 AM Ann, Sherry & All: I don't know how people who read as many books as CRs do could possibly get THE BONE PEOPLE mixed up with THE STONE BOAT. Not to be confused with Russell Banks' RULE OF THE BONE, Jim Crace's THE GIFT OF STONES, Ursula Hegi's STONES FROM THE RIVER, Harriet Doerr's STONES FOR IBARRA, Gordon Weaver's GIVE HIM A STONE, Anne Fairbairn's FIVE SMOOTH STONES, not to mention Thomas Wolfe's THE WEB AND THE ROCK, and...and...and... Why are writers so obsessed with stones and bones? Maybe because it's such a *hard* profession...Aaarghhh... >>Dale, trying to stonewall in Ala. =============== Reply 20 of Note 11 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 09/15 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 11:17 AM Ann, I think you're right about the secondary characters here. They did remain in the background. Some of the dialogue was stilted, too. Sherry, my guess about the Bloom quote on the front of the book is that it was a solicited blurb and not part of a longer review. I bet Solomon is a former student of Bloom's. One of the things I liked about the Three Loves chapter is that Solomon finally let us in, and we were right there with Harry. Frankly, I 'm glad he didn't say anything about condoms; I think that would have sounded preachy. As far as his sleeping with Helen, I don't think we can assume that it was unprotected sex. And isn't sleeping with anyone these> days risky? Gay, straight, etc. Now, was that narrator Harry a talkative guy or what? I will confess that sometimes when things fell into the overwritten/overly sad mode, I found myself inserting comic one-liners. Also, the ridiculously perfect portrayal of the parents' marriage was something I had a hard time with, but perhaps Solomon is saying that Harry needed, for whatever reason, to believe that. Susan, admiring Dale's list of all these Stones and Bones novels =============== Reply 21 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/15 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 12:22 PM Susan, I assumed that the "perfect marriage" existed more in Harry's mind than in reality. Part of his problem. Ruth =============== Reply 22 of Note 11 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 09/15 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 12:23 PM Dale, got it! The title of your next novel--- STONES AND BONES. Or maybe BONES AND STONES? Ruth =============== Reply 23 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/15 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 1:12 PM Susan: Your mention of the narrator (in a book I admittedly haven't read) being "overly talkative" reminds me of a memorable fiction workshop I attended, by the late novelist Jesse Hill Ford, years ago. Jesse discussed all of the "devices","alternatives" ...that writers of various cultures have come up with, over the centuries/millennia, to get their narrative told in spite of societal constraints. He gave a very enlightening, and very funny, talk filled with examples from literature, much of which focused on dialogue of the 20th-century "Western hero"--by definition, a guy of few words. Thereby, says Jesse, was invented "the sidekick" as a foil for a guy who just didn't talk much...establishing outwardly a cynical and/or more naive alter ego for the hero, among other aspects. All of which is not unlike the Roman/Greek playwrights' reliance on the "chorus," who give us the straight sh** about everything the locals are intuiting but the principals are too close to see. Narrative/art will inevitably find a way to speak with its own voice, no matter how intrusive that thread seems when it's first introduced into readers' consciousnesses... >>Dale in Ala., waxing verbose about a tradition that means a lot to me, however imperfectly I understand it =============== Reply 24 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/15 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 8:04 PM Sherry, Well, I thought perhaps STONE BOAT was on a reading list for a course in gay literature--is there such a thing? Thanks for clarifying that. Ruth, I agree with you 100% about Helen, who seemed like a very wooden character to me. I too wanted to shout, Helen, are you CRAZY??--even 2 condoms wouldn't have been enough to make me feel secure with Harry, considering his recent love life. Since Helen seemed to represent the voice of dry reason in this novel, this part of the novel didn't ring true to me. While we are discussing Harry's sex life (which really didn't occupy that much of the novel, folks, trust me), I was turned off by the episode where he had a perfect week of glorious sex with a nameless foreigner. He made such a big deal of the fact that he never even learned this guy's name. Maybe this is just a female reaction. Soon after I finished this book, I heard a very articulate older gay author interviewed on Fresh Air (sorry I can't remember his name) who said that anonymous, rough sex is something that appeals to men in general, not just gay men. There now--how is that for opening a can of worms? . I agree that the parent's marriage seemed too perfect. Could anyone be that perfectly giving and devoted through such a long illness? No matter how much you love someone, your patience would wear thin at times. I think the story would have been more interesting if Solomon had fleshed out some of the secondary characters. As it was, at times it was a bit claustrophobic. Nevertheless, I do think that this young author has a real gift with words. Parts of the novel are very beautiful. Ann =============== Reply 25 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/15 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 10:38 PM Ann, was it Edmund White you heard on Fresh Air? I didn't hear the show, but I know he has a new book out, the third in a trilogy that starts with A BOY'S OWN STORY, which I'be been meaning to read for years. One thing I keep forgetting about Harry is how young he is; he is only in his mid-twenties or so, isn't he? Perhaps that's why he needs his mother's approval of his choice of romantic partners. This family is really into aesthetics, especially Harry and his mother. Do you think they could be the modern-day equivalents of the folks in HOUSE OF MIRTH? --Susan =============== Reply 26 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/15 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 10:39 PM As I was reading this book, the thought kept coming to me that I hoped the discussion here wouldn't focus mainly on the homosexual aspect. I think the family dynamics were very interesting. Like others, I feel some of the characters could have been fleshed out a bit. But the relationship between the 4 people in this family was intriguing. And not completely healthy. Is any husband as fixated on his wife as this one seemed? And why was the other brother, whose name I've forgotten, always the one to do the responsible thing, to kind of mother the other two, now that the actual mother was out of commission. Did anyone else dislike the actual mother, find her as manipulative and controlling as I did? And lastly, what was this book REALLY about? Sexual love relationships (including homosexuality)? Mother/son/family love? Or assisted suicide? Ruth =============== Reply 27 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/15 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 10:41 PM Oops, forgot to add one more alternative. Or does it fail to focus on any one issue as the main issue, because it is too closely autobiographical and what's really happening is that Solomon is choosing to deal with his particular demons by writing this book? Ruth =============== Reply 28 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/16 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 7:56 AM I didn't like the mother much, either, Ruth. She had some qualities I admired, but on the whole, women who are that "perfection" oriented are bad news. I may have a personal bias here because there are women in my life I have to deal with who have very similar characteristics. I find myself having to deal with the aftermath of all this enforced "perfection". Sometimes it's not a pretty sight. Harry was 24 years old, for heaven's sake, and she was ragging him about getting a haircut. He didn't even seem to think there was anything unusual about this. I think people should work on improving themselves, but the idea of perfection is so nebulous. It is sort of like religion. It implies a one true thing that negates any other truth. It implies there is one right way. I think you're right, Ruth, about the themes of the book. I found the assisted suicide portion the most well-written and intense. The other parts were a bit too flowery for my taste, except for a few passages, the stone boat passage being one I really liked. Sherry =============== Reply 29 of Note 11 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 09/16 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 10:11 AM Hello, everybody. Ruth, I'm going to be thinking about what the book is about. Although the assisted suicide is certainly central, I'm not sure that's the book's main point. Events do all lead up to that, however. I'll have to ponder this one, but off the top of my head, I'd say the book is about love. One of my favorite scenes was when Harry (the narrator) was practicing at his parents' home, and his mother came and sat down beside him to listen. Harry realized, somehow, that she had quit planning everything and had come to take one day at a time, enjoying as much of the time she had left as she was able to. This is when I came to like the mother. > For a lot of people, it's hard to live in the moment, and I liked the mother a lot for having come to this decision to do so. Susan =============== Reply 30 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/16 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 9:19 PM Susan, White may have been the guy I heard interviewed. I was listening at work and only caught part of it. He had written a series of books, which were autobiographical in nature but he classified them as fiction because he changed details to make the stories more readable. This sounds reasonable to me. I can never figure out how writers of "autobiographies" can possibly remember so many details. He was very interesting. Now that you mention it, I can certainly see THE HOUSE OF MIRTH connection-- Like you, I started liking the mother after she accepted her death and started concentrating on creating beautiful memories for her family. I am still not sure how realistic that is. This woman was presented as having tremendous will power and perhaps there are those who can eventually face death with so much acceptance. I realize, of course, that she first went through this very long, angry phase when she was impossible. I thought she died very well--too well, in fact, even managing to make beautiful speeches to her sons about all that they had meant to her. I didn't totally buy it. I think that real death is much messier. Of course, this was a woman who wanted to do everything perfectly. Maybe I don't give her enough credit. Ann =============== Reply 31 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/16 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 9:31 PM Ruth, I think that this book was basically about the intense love between a mother and son, and how one lives through the lingering death of the person you love most. A strong secondary theme was Harry's eventual acceptance of his sexual identity. I don't think Harry could feel comfortable with himself until his mother accepted that part of him. It is hard for me to imagine how anyone could begrudge this woman her assisted suicide, but I am sure there are those who might find it controversial. Ann =============== Reply 32 of Note 11 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 09/16 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 9:35 PM Sherry, I keep thinking about your comparison of the mother to Charity in Stegner's CROSSING TO SAFETY. I think these characters have an awful lot in common. I will never forget Charity's death, which she refused to let her husband share. Control was really the name of the game for both women, but they expressed it in different ways. Ann =============== Reply 33 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/18 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 10:34 AM Hello, everyone. Y'all are probably winging your way to Denver right now. Have fun! Yesterday I was doing some work at the library, and right before it closed, I picked up the issue of The New Yorker (May 22, 1995) in which Andrew Solomon's article appeared. While the article focuses closely on euthanasia, with quite a bit about the Hemlock Society, it does include some personal information. In the piece, Solomon refers to A STONE BOAT as "sporadically autobiographical" and says that it was "most true to life in the description of [his] mother's death." And the deathbed scene he describes in The New Yorker is very much like the one in A STONE BOAT. > While I am often leery of reading too much autobiography into fiction, I found this pretty interesting. In regard to Harry, the novel's narrator, I'm not so sure that he does accept his own sexuality; I don't know if his mother does, either, because, after all, at the end she is still talking about saving her jewelry for her daughter*s*-in-law. Although I'd read the Solomon piece several years ago when it originally appeared in The NYer, I would not have heard of this book if it hadn't been on the CR list. I'm glad to have read it, so thanks very much to the nominator. --Susan =============== Reply 34 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/26 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 8:03 PM Susan, Thanks for the report on the NEW YORKER article. Did Solomon say if his mother actually gave those speeches to her sons about how much they had meant to her? If so, I am really impressed. I suspect the part about the mother not dying right away was from real life. Have you read Anna Quindlen's ONE TRUE THING, which also deals with the right to die? Ann =============== Reply 35 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/26 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 8:21 PM Ann, yes, Solomon said that his mother did say to him and his brother how loved they were. In his article, he says she said this to them together; in the book, it's separately, right? I loved Anna Quindlen's work when she was a reporter for the Times, especially a column called Around New York (or something like that). I have picked up the novel you're talking about, but for some reason put it down before reading too far in it. Maybe it's time to try it again. Esther Broner's GHOST STORIES is a good one, too. Susan, sorry to have missed the Denver fiesta =============== Reply 36 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/26 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 8:36 PM I keep thinking about how they all went in the other room and left the mother to die alone and wondering if that's the way it really happened. Somehow it doesn't seem like something someone would think up. It sounds really heartless to leave her like that. But on another level I can understand not wanting to watch her die. Ruth =============== Reply 37 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/26 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:49 PM Hi all, I finished A STONE BOAT a couple of days ago and have been thinking about it quite a bit. I came to admire the mother at the end of the book. The part where she says to Harry that it is his fault that she got cancer is just awful. But I had to admire her at the end when she apologized to Harry for saying that. I think she wanted to hurt the people closest to her when she became ill, because she was hurting so much. Perhaps, she subconsciously wanted to share the pain with her loved ones. The THREE LOVES chapter was a bit "talky" for me when AS was describing his love scene with Nick. Harry talked his way through the whole sex episode. I have also been thinking about the "exchanging easy pleasures for more difficult ones" philosophy. From the books I have read, the films I have seen, and the gay friends I have talked to, the casual sex with several partners is all too common for gay males. There was a wonderful autobiographical called SAVAGE NIGHTS that dealt with this subject. The main character wrote the script, starred in the film, and then died of AIDS shortly after the film was released. In this film he showed scenes of young men having sex with multiple partners under a highway in Paris. It was frightening because the search for "love" and acceptance was frantic. I got the impression that Harry was doing similar things. I thought that this represented the easy pleasures while a more lasting relationship would represent difficult pleasure s Anyway, I also liked the part of the book where the mother goes crazy and screams at everyone after her second surgery. I feel that most of us would react this way. Later, she calms down and becomes very philosophical. I found that harder to believe than the screaming scene. Jane who has thought a lot about this book =============== Reply 38 of Note 11 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 09/27 From: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Time: 0:35 AM I did not read this selection, I have too many books (and other matters) to attend to ... but I am curious about the title. Does anyone know why "The Stone Boat?" It reminds me of the elaborate stone boat built by the Dowager Empress of China - the one who ruled over China, plus her son, the Last Emperor, in the final years of China's monarchy. Theresa =============== Reply 39 of Note 11 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 09/27 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:40 AM The mother always wanted everything to be absolutely perfect and absolutely beautiful, as if it were built from gems. But you can't travel in a boat made from diamonds and rubies, after all they're stone. Stone boats don't float too well. Ruth, hoping she's remembering this somewheres near correctly =============== Reply 40 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/27 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 4:41 PM Susan, Because the entire book deals with dying, ONE TRUE THING is not a book for everyone.It was a book that really resonated for me. We wished you had been in Denver, too--hopefully next year? Ann =============== Reply 41 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/27 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 4:51 PM Ruth, My mother died alone, unexpectedly, in a nursing home after many years of illness. My Dad died of lung cancer and we had plenty of advance notice. He had gone into a coma and the hospice nurses told us that it wouldn't be long. All four of us children were there when he died, and it was very important to me that I be there when the time came. His actual passing was very peaceful. The part leading up to the coma was not. In this book, the family took an active part in the mother's death and maybe that is why it was harder for them to watch her go. I believe very strongly in the right to die and admire them for helping her. However, I am sure that they participated with a great deal of ambivalence. Ann =============== Reply 42 of Note 11 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 09/27 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 5:00 PM Jane, I liked what you said about the exchanging easy pleasures for more difficult ones. Harry seemed to realize how ridiculous he was being with Nick, but he just couldn't seem to shut up, could he? I also agree that the scenes that showed the mother angry and lashing out were realistic. By the time the mother reached the acceptance stage, she had almost turned into a saint. If this part of the novel was really autobiographical Solomon truly had an exceptional mother. I am curious. Did anyone envy Harry for the close relationship he had with his mother? Very few people have that close a bond with another human being. Ann =============== Reply 43 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/27 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 5:18 PM Ann, I definitely didn't envy Harry's relationship with his mother; it seemed too claustrophobic. And I do hope to make the next CR convention! Susan, happy as a clam with a new Gateway computer (I abandoned Apple...) =============== Reply 44 of Note 11 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 09/27 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:47 PM Ann, I think that Harry's relationship with his mother was too close. It seems to me that he will never get over her death. Although I am not a parent, I am a daughter. It seems to me that a parent should reach a balance in that the parent is close to the child but not too close. The child should be able to survive alone without the parent. I am talking about an adult child not a young child. I once taught with a man who at one time, I heard tell, was a fantastic teacher. By the time I knew him, his mother had died and he had given up doing a good job. According to my students, he would fall asleep in class and the students were very cruel to him. Of course, I don't know how I will react when my parents are gone, because I am lucky enough to have both of them. But I have been grateful to them all of my adult life, because when the time came for me to leave home, I was able to do so without too much fear and with a lot of excitement. Jane who thinks that children should accept their parents as they are and not expect them to be perfect =============== Reply 45 of Note 11 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 09/27 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 11:06 PM Jane, I think you're absolutely right. From day one a parent's biggest job is to teach the kids to get along without them. Harry's mother was a failure. Ruth =============== Reply 46 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/27 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 11:07 PM Susan, we're on our 3rd Gateway and have been very happy with them, especially their Customer Service. Ruth =============== Reply 47 of Note 11 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 09/28 From: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Time: 7:00 PM Ruth, I am quite charmed with the Gateway; so far we're getting along fabulously. The customer service aspect was one of the reasons I decided on this one. Love those boxes too. As for Harry, isn't it too soon to tell if he's going to get over his mother's death? After all, he's still ostensibly pretty young. I guess I see their relationship as more of a two-way street--that they both chose this for some reason. I don't see it as necessarily the mother's fault. --Susan =============== Reply 48 of Note 11 =================  
To: DNBR75A S THOMSEN Date: 09/29 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 8:04 PM Susan, Good point. Now that I am one, I'm all for cutting mothers a little slack now and then. Ann =============== Reply 49 of Note 11 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 09/30 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 8:17 PM Just finished this book last night, came to read the notes and am relieved that the discussion is still going on...I hate it when I finish late and folks just aren't interested anymore. You know, I thought one of the themes of this book was the difficult transition from a very close immediate family to your own space in the world. It seems to me that sometimes you can create too close a situation, add to it some of your own myth about its perfection and then never find its equal again. Helen seemed to be telling Harry repeatedly that this was his trap and I think I agree with her. Harry's mother was the creator of this aura of perfection, but the family was the product. Also, though I too got impatient with this book at times, some of the verbal pictures were absolute perfection. Was anyone else struck by the description of the peonies at the part and their comparison with roses? I don't think I'll ever look at peonies quite the same again. And, Helen's description of their family as a stone boat was a perfect metaphor. Regarding the Harold Bloom blurb, I think that Harold must be a friend of the family...or at least a friend of Andrew's. In the Acknowledgements, Harold is included in a list of people that Solomon thanks for giving "wonderfully close responses to single drafts." Also, what did you think was the significance of Harry's soliloquy during his lovemaking with Nick? Was it to try to block out the physical? Or, was it part of the hysteria with which he was pursuing every sensation at that point to block out or survive his grief? I didn't really get it and it got almost ridiculous eventually...or was that the point? Ann, I heard that Edmund White interview on Fresh Air too. Wish I'd known you'd heard it in Denver as it really got me thinking. Came home immediately and asked my husband if he thought that White could possibly be right. He saw it as one more overgeneralization on the basis of gender. I still was left with some questions particularly concerning this tendency to have an incredible number of partners, sometimes in a very short time, among gay men at some point in their lives. It was true of a gay friend of mine a long time ago too. And, Harry's behavior in this book, not just during the period that his mother was dying, brought the whole subject back up again. One more question...didn't you kind of expect Harry's brother to be a bit jealous? I didn't get the sense that he was nearly as close to his mother as Harry was. But, in a sense, he seemed glad about that. And did you notice that the mother became closer to him at the beginning of the book when he broke up with his girlfriend? Interesting book...not great literature, but some very arresting moments. I loved ONE TRUE THING and could certainly relate to it more. However, this book was really about something else. It seems to me that the intensity of their relationship was the more important part of the story and its loss, of course. Come to think of it, the relationship with the father in ONE TRUE THING was the intense one initially and it too was lost though he was still alive. Barbara...rambling because I'm tired.... =============== Reply 50 of Note 11 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 09/30 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:56 PM Barbara, I felt the same way about Harry's monologue during his love scene with Nick. I thought, "Why doesn't Nick tell him to shut up?" I was wondering if Harry was trying to distance himself from Nick, because he didn't want to be too close to anyone at that point in his life. You mentioned the multiple partners that many gay men have. I think that this is a sign of desperation. They all seem to be desperately searching for happiness or at least forgetfulness. One of my good friends who is gay says that they want acceptance because they are not accepted by most of society. These are the easy pleasures that Harry talks about. I, too, loved the description of the peonies. I have always loved those deep rose peonies, but they certainly don't last long in the garden - two weeks maybe. Jane in sunny Colorado oard: BOOKS & WRITING Topic: B *** ADDENDUM TO THE STONE BOAT THREAD *** Some months after we had the preceding discussion, Andrew Solomon, author of A STONE BOAT, came across the Constant Reader website and noticed we had his novel on our reading list. What follows are his comments on that discussion. To: VRCH78A From: Andrew Solomon Subject: Re: Discussion, Part 2 Date: 04/15/98 02:52 AM Dear Allen Crocker: Thanks so much for forwarding all of these. I may write to some of the participants individually, but I thought I'd give some general responses for the moment, and these follow. I'd love to know more about the group and what it is and how it works. Yours, Andrew Solomon Dear Everyone: I was looking for something else on the internet a few days ago and came upon a mention of my book on your list. I e-mailed Allen Crocker and asked whether I might see the discussion, and he forwarded the whole thing to me. I'd love to respond to each of you individually, but schedules are a bit tight at the moment, so I'll just write some general remarks, which I hope will be of interest to you all (if not, skip 'em); I felt a real warmth from you as a group, and was really very moved by your serious and attentive and intelligent readings of my novel. I thought you all brought a great openness to the book. First, let me straighten out a few things about me. Sadly, I do not have a $100 million trust fund, though if any of you would like to set one up I'll be glad to give you my social security number and any other information you require. I grew up in what I guess you'd call an upper middle class family, and my father has had some more substantial business success in the last few years. The article about eligible bachelors was about me, but it was full of exaggerations and fictional details. I am not related in any way to Salomon Brothers (note spelling). Harold Bloom was the advisor for my senior essay at Yale, and he and I have remained friends ever since; in fact, he now lives around the corner from me and we see each other frequently. He had asked to read the novel, as he had known me through the period when my mother was ill and had met her once. He called me on the phone shortly after I gave him the manuscript, and said that he loved it. When I mentioned this to my editor, he immediately said he wanted to get an official quote for the book, and Harold sent him a short letter, from which my editor extracted the words on the cover. I have done quite a broad range of writing (and wonder how the "eligible bachelor" article could have turned up on its own without the material I think of as more substantial). I wrote my first book, when I was in my twenties, about Soviet artists and the changes in their lives during the glasnost period. Since then, I've written regularly for The New York Times Magazine, where I am now a Contributing Writer (it's a dopey title, but that's the Times) and I also write for The New Yorker, where I published an article on depression recently. I have spent time in and have written about Russia, China, Turkey, Taiwan, South Africa, Angola, and various other exotic spots; I'm a dual national (UK/US) but was born in the United States and define myself as an American. I've written several speeches for President Clinton (on foreign policy--not on domestic affairs of either kind) and I have also written for a broad range of other magazines: Artforum, The New Republic, The Specatator (the English magazine, not the alarming American one), Travel and Leisure, the TLS, Icarus, Interview, etc. I did do a stint writing articles for House and Garden long ago, when I was writing anything to scrape by (oh, if I'd only had that trust fund!). I've often said that A Stone Boat is autobiographical in its emotional trajectories and fictional in many of its scenes and narratives. My mother did die of cancer when I was 27. She died as described in the book, and the monologues in the chapter about her death are transcribed almost word-for-word; my father, my brother, and I wrote them down that night. We had had a party for the publication of my first book, and my mother did keep herself alive to attend that party; she died exactly a week later, after taking an overdose of pills, as she had intended, as the novel describes. I'm interested that some people feel that we abandoned her by withdrawing to another room after she had said her last; once she had gone deep below the surface and had lost all consciousness, we felt it would be gorey to sit there watching her breathe less and less, and she had to some extent made it clear that she thought of those last words as her exit. We all felt that she did not want us sitting around with her body; that was part of the cleanness of her departure. I think if she'd been able to finish saying what she had to say and dissolve into thin air, she'd have done that. The quote about the sublime as the exchange of easier for more difficult pleasures comes from Lucretius and is quoted in several books by Harold Bloom, from whom I first heard it. I think the idea is that the easy pleasures, those that make no demands and require no sacrifices, are usually less important and less profound than the difficult pleasures that entail some self- denial and some suffering. At the simplest level, you can say that social acquaintances who are sheer fun are often less meaningful than engaged friends in one's long-term committment to whom pain and conflict play some part. Harry is pretty desperate when he quotes that line; he's really trying to justify all his suffering, to insist that it has some value. He brings it up when he really knows that Nick is going to leave him, when he's driving Nick away so that Nick won't just leave him without any justification. The message of my book, I think, is that Harry's suffering DOES have some value, that he learns and grows through it. I never thought of the book as a book about sexuality, except as Harry's realtionship to and understanding of his own sexuality are entangled with his complex relationship to his mother. In my view, it's a book about the intense relationship between a mother and a son, and about the way that the experience of loss alters both individuals and their understanding of each other. The mother, who was in many ways very wonderful all along--but who was also possessive and terribly controlling and judgmental--turns into a much more open, relaxed, accepting person, whose intense love becomes a gift rather than a demand. Harry, who has been brilliant and interesting and adoring--but also childish and repressed and manipulative--becomes an open person, able to understand himself in relation to his mother and outside the relationship to his mother, freed from a narrow and angry life into a big, open, free, and terribly confusing world full of previously unimagined possibilities. And the relationship between them, in which love had been so elaborately tangled with distortions and irritations and frustrations and miscommuinications, eventually seperates itself out and becomes a singular, apparent emotion, which each of them can see and experience for itself. By the time that Harry's mother dies, she has distilled her love into something completely positive, and has made it the basis for a deep self-confience in Harry, rather than the basis for a deep neurosis. The book is about the process through which people become their best selves, about how to make of difficulty something invaluable. When Harry's mother reaches her point of acceptance, to which several of you responded, she has learned a real lesson, and I think she does quite a lot in the remaining short time to teach that lesson to her sons. (By the way--Harry, the narrator, clearly tries to exclude Freddy some of the time, as though he is trying to own his mother, but this was intended to indicate an edge to Harry's possessiveness; if you look at and listen to what happens, you can see, I think, that the mother herself does not neglect Freddy, that she really pays pretty close attention to both of her children.) For whatever it's worth as an autobiographical matter, I had never had a sustained sexual relationship with a woman before my mother's illness, and had described myself as gay. I did become involved with a good friend (who is somewhat but not entirely Helen-like) when my mother was ill; eighteen months after my mother's death I became involved with a woman with whom I lived for two years; I then was involved with a man for about two years; and I am now living with a woman again; we've been together for nearly three years and are thinking of marrying. If we were to split up, I might be involved with a man and I might be involved with a woman (though I think I will spare you all a full discourse on that question). I do not think that there is a specific link between sexuality and family relationships, but I think that sexuality is multi-determined, and that Harry has expressed his homosexuality in part as a way to distance himself from his mother. It is when he stops fighting for that distance, and experiences sex simply as sex, and love simply as love, that he discovers both the passionate qualities of gay sex and the erotic/emotional content of heterosexual sex. The rather hollow relationship with Bernard gives way to two models, each of which is vital and engaging in a way that Harry could not previously have conceived. He ends the book knowing that many things are possible, and totally unsure of where to go and what to do. It's not ideal and it's not comfortable, but it's a giant stride forward nonetheless. Several of you suggest that he is not "recovering" from his mother's death at the end of the book. She has been dead a few months there, and it seems to me that the insensitivity of walking out of the room in which she is breathing her last breaths in a comatose state is considerably less than the insensitivity of being totally focused on recovery a few months after such a loss. I think that Harry will survive this trauma; that he will be a stronger person for the battle; that it will not be easy; and that he will miss his mother in some ways for the rest of his life. But I think she has in fact preapred her children to manage without her, and that when Harry says his final bit about her love being not protective cotton, but the steel inside him, that that's what he's talking about. He's actually got quite a lot of the grit that allowed his mother to come to his party, or so I think. By the way: I am HIV-, and I assume that Harry probably was as well. The kind of sexual experience described in that nightclub sequence is not unsafe; people are mostly really just rubbing against one another. It's socially dubious and emotionally disturbing and it does have a frantic, desperate quality as well as a liberated escstatic quality. I do think that many men have extreme sexual fantasies of one kind or another, and that gay men, having already transgressed a social boundary, feel they might as well trasngress the remaining boundaries (or as someone I know once said, if you have found the forbidden fruit and decided to taste it, you might as well make a big apple pie while you're at it). There is certainly no indication that Harry and Helen had unsafe sex. At the time that I was writing A Stone Boat, there were many books being published which dealt with the specific complexities of avoiding unsafe encounters, which detailed every application of a condom and so on; and I admired the authors' attempts to include the new sexual rules in their stories. But the descriptions of sex in this book are lyrical and emotional; there are no four- letter words, no elaborate explanations of exactly what people are doing to each other, no extended depictions of how one act is performed and how it leads to another. To have put condoms in the middle of all this would have concretized it, and I wanted to show Harry as someone resistant to the concrete mundane qualities of love and of sex, someone who could be practical in life but who was given to a kind of nostalgia in memory that erased the mundane. Whether Helen was taking a foolish emotional risk is another matter, but Helen's eyes were open, and I would like to think that she saw and participated in Harry's ambivalence, that she expected trouble but really felt for him and wanted to connect to him every way she could. And that she also wanted not to close off any possibilities until they had been tried. I chose to set the book in a wealthy millieu because I did not want it to be put through any of the readings that identity politics and Marxist cricticism have popularized in the last decade. I didn't want anyone to say that the real problem for these people was that they didn't have enough health insurance; that they really couldn't solve their problems because they were frozen out of the areas in which they might have wished to succeed; that the issue for them was that they'd never been able to make the choices that a democracy should guarantee. These people have everything in external terms, so their lives are formed by their internal emotional realities, and internal emotional realities are what interest me most. I also do have aesthetic leanings, and loved describing the opulence. Thanks to those who responded to the words about peonies; I get a lot of pleasure from describing those flowers, and from describing all the rest of the almost incidental beauty that surrounds these people, and that gives them (especially Harry's mother) so very much pleasure. On the one hand, she was too focused on perfection (toward the end, she says that so many things she thought mattered really don't matter); on the other hand, she acheived a lot of perfection and some of that perfection gave enormous pleasure to her and to those around her. Some of the perfection came at too high a cost; some of it was glorious. I'm thrilled to be compared to The House of Mirth, which is one of my all-time favorite books. I'll be looking forward to reading the Stegner, which I don't know. I think that my mother was an extraordinary woman, and that my parents did have an extraordinary marriage, and I feel enormously lucky to have grown up the way I did. I know also that it was not always such an easy pleasure; our lives definitely included some ugly moments of conflict. All my friends always thought it would be great to be in my family instead of in their families, and that was not always the easiest way to live. I was aware of a public perception (in our limited public) or all of us that was not wholly inaccurate but that was often burdensome. When I felt as though I wasn't living up to this standard of elegance, brilliance, and happiness, I felt as though I was failing, and that was hard for me. These days, I have no ultimate regrets about having grown up in my family; I can't imagine a family I would have preferred, and if I'd grown up elsewhere, I'd be someone else, I guess. The novel is really about what it was like to grow up as I did, and what it was like to see a chaos of ambivalent emtions resolve themselves. It is, however, a novel. I wanted to make a central character who was naive, confused, unable fully to interpret his own behaviours and actions; and I wanted to give him a performer's ego (performers are very different creatures from composers or writers), an ego that prevented him from recognizing the origins of his own behavior and controlling it. Harry's a bit wild and a bit foolish, and he needs the wisdom of Helen to keep him on balance and to help him understand things. (Interestingly, among the letters I've had from the great public, Helen is usually a favorite character. I've even had letters from people who read the book as wholly autobiographical and wanted to meet her!) Harry fails to appreciate a certain fine sensibility in Bernard; he cannot accept his ambivalence about Helen; and he obsesses about Nick, who is sexy but a real jerk. He ignores his father and his brother; he notices the qualities of his parents' wonderful marriage, but doesn't really examine it closely enough to imagine a way to include what is best in it in his own life. The formal challenge of the book was to create a narrator who was unaware of things that I thought I understood, and to convey through his narrative the insights he didn't have. I hope that I succeeded in doing this, at least in places. You're all fantastic readers, the kind of readers of whom writers dream. You picked up on lots of interesting things, and several of your comments will stay with me and change how I see passages in my own book. I've actually had a lot of letters since the book was published, and I don't usually babble on quite so much as I have allowed myself to do here (possibly boring you all to death). Perhaps there was a special thrill in the sensation of eavesdropping that I had reading all this e-mail, but your responses affected me a lot, and made me feel anew that there is a point to writing fiction, that it does touch people, that it has its place in the modern cynical world! If any of you want to be in touch (but please don't feel obliged), you can reach me at If not, all my best to all of you, and thanks-- Andrew Solomon


I think there were parts of this book which were exceptional and parts where I almost threw the book against the wall, too. But I thought it ended spectacularly. He quit describing scenes and actually put us there, instead of removing us. The section about the red pills and red fingernails, etc., was riveting.
One of my favorite scenes was when Harry (the narrator) was practicing at his parents' home, and his mother came and sat down beside him to listen. Harry realized, somehow, that she had quit planning everything and had come to take one day at a time, enjoying as much of the time she had left as she was able to. This is when I came to like the mother. > For a lot of people, it's hard to live in the moment, and I liked the mother a lot for having come to this decision to do so.

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