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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Lost Language of Cranes

The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

December 6, 2005

Fair warning: I'm going to reference the end, or rather lack of ending in this review.

Leavitt is noted for his short stories, so it isn't much of a surprise that "The Lost Language of Cranes" is a short story padded into a novel that in sort of an ironic twist winds up being too short, ending before any of the issues put forth are resolved.

The gist of the story is that Owen and Rose have been married for 27 years, but now they're facing a crisis. Their Manhattan apartment is going co-op forcing them to either buy or move, a predicament I think few outside of New York City really understand. At the same time, Owen has been disappearing for long stretches of some days, especially Sundays. We soon learn he's going to certain X-rated theaters for a little homosexual hanky-panky. Owen is homosexual--always has been--but is trying to keep it from Rose and his son Philip. Although it turns out Philip is also gay, but has been keeping it from Mom and Dad. He gets involved in a serious relationship with Eliot, adopted son of a writer Philip admired. Before long, Philip is "coming out" to his parents, which inadvertantly causes Owen to come out. Mayhem ensues.

When I mentioned this book is padded, in particular is the sidebar story of Eliot's roommate Jerene. She came out to her adopted parents years ago and they soon disowned her. Since then she's been working on a never-ending dissertation until she decides to say the heck with it and work first as a bouncer at a lesbian club and then as a counselor on a gay helpline, which Owen later calls. While her life may serve as comparison or contrast to Philip and Owen, it doesn't contribute a whole lot to the story of Philip, Owen, and Rose.

Most of the writing is good, but some of the dialogue is clumsy. My belief is if anyone in a book or movie says, "I feel..." without being in the presence of a therapist, it's a red flag for poor dialogue. It's not natural for people to say, "I feel like..." in my experience. At other times the characters spouted dialogue that seemed too melodramatic. But with a first novel you can't expect absolute perfection.

Now what really annoyed me about the book is the lack of a decent ending. The book ends with Philip and Owen being outed, but everything is up in the air. We don't know what's going to happen between Owen and Rose; will they stay together? Eliot breaks up with Philip, who soon is spending a lot of time with his friend Brad; are they going to become serious? Not even the issue of the apartment, mentioned so prominently throughout the book is resolved. What good is an ending that doesn't end anything? It feels arbitrary to me. Maybe with a little less padding there would have been more space to focus on more important issues.

Except for some insights into the gay nightlife scene of 1980s New York City, I didn't think this book told me a lot I didn't already know. Mostly I thought it was a bland novel, but a worthy first effort.

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