Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Lost Language of Cranes

The Lost Language of Cranes, by David Leavitt
$14.95 at Bn.com ISBN: 1582345732
There's a lot of "gay fiction" out there. Most of it, in my opinion, isn't very good. This novel, along with most of Mr. Leavitt's work, is a most wonderful exception. The story revolves around a shy young gay man named Philip, who is in his early 20s and lives in New York City. After years of isolation and loneliness, he's finally found love in a happy-go-lucky young stud named Eliot. How this relationship will work out is anyone's guess: on one level this book is built around their romance. But there's a lot more to this story than just two gay guys falling in love.
The second most common theme in gay writing is here, too: coming out. Philip tells his parents he's gay, unaware that they're somewhat preoccupied with problems in their own lives. His father, especially, is nurturing a secret life of his own, and Philip's revelation couldn't come at a worse time. The novel's other characters are just as rich: Eliot's lesbian roommate, working on her doctoral thesis while estranged from her snobbish, upper-class parents. Eliot's parents, a gay couple who wrote a famous series of children's books, welcome their son's quiet new lover into their lives. Overall, the cast will feel like your own friends and families, because Leavitt develops characters just like the people in our own lives.
This is why I enjoyed this novel so much: it's not built around corny drama! No one dies, AIDS is somewhat inconspicuously absent, no one's addicted to drugs, and so on. Instead, we spend poetic nights at home with Philip, waiting to see if his boyfriend calls. Sounds familiar, right? It seems his best efforts to "fit in" with the gay community and Eliot's family only alienate him further. In other words, he's trying too hard; a situation any introverted, mild-mannered gay boy who's used to feeling like an outsider even with his own kind of people can relate to. Big-man-on-campus, life-of-the-party types needn't bother. Loaded with muted male emotions: remembering your first love, trying not to cry. This is more than just a dime-store romance novel for gay guys. Light-hearted and fun, sometimes weird, a terrific first choice in gay fiction.

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