Genre: LGBT, Literary Fiction
Narrative Style: Third person from a number of view points. Largely chronological
Synopsis: Rose and Owen have been married for a long time. Their relationship first comes under pressure when they are told they have to buy their apartment or move out. They are unsure whether they can afford it and put off making a decision. Their son, Phillip, is in love for the first time so decides the time has come to come out to his parents. This causes problems for Owen who is struggling with his sexuality – he spends his Sunday afternoons in a gay porn theatre – and makes Rose realise some of the issues in her marriage.
Time on shelf: I’ve had a physical copy of this book for about two years but it has been on my reading list since I did my MA in the 90s.
Reading challenge: TBR Challenge 2022
I first came across this book when I took a module for my MA on Narrative and the Deviant Body. The Lost Language of Cranes wasn’t on the reading list but I came across it in my reading and added it to my very long TBR list. I can’t believe it took my this long to read it. Especially as it was a very good read.
At the beginning of the novel, Owen and Rose are a long married couple in a rented apartment in New York that they have lived in for years. They have to either buy up – which may cause them financial difficulties – or move out of the family home. Both ignore this as far as they can probably because if they start to examine things too closely, they will see the issues within their marriage. Owen spends every Sunday afternoon in a gay porn theatre while Rose carefully doesn’t ask where he was been. They willfully refuse to see each other clearly. Early in the novel, Rose meets Owen in the street on one of these Sundays and they are like two strangers. While she starts to question where he has been, she still doesn’t ask.
Their only son, Phillip, is in love for the first time. Elliot, the object of Phillip’s affections doesn’t want to be in a committed relationship. Phillip is insecure and, as a result, comes across as needy. He is unable to relax and appreciate his relationship without analysing it and worrying about the end of it. Like Owen, he is not entirely comfortable with his emotions although he is more comfortable with his sexuality. His parents don’t know he is gay, at the beginning but as he is now in a relationship, he wishes them to know. When he does tell them, it rocks their marriage even further.
Leavitt’s prose is a joy to read. It is elegant and exact. Owen, Rose and Phillip are all well drawn and it is possible to feel empathy for all three of them even when they are opposed to each other. Even though Rose doesn’t react well to Phillip’s coming out, Leavitt allows the reader to understand her position. I wanted the best for all three characters even though this is clearly impossible. For Owen to be happy, Rose and their marriage will be destroyed. Owen’s situation is heart breaking – in a particularly poignant moment, he phones a sex line and then starts to weep down the phone – as he is torn between his desires and how much he would hurt his family. When Owen eventually does leave, it doesn’t feel particularly triumphant – he seems as broken as Rose – but at least there is hope for the future.
At the end of the novel, Phillip is starting a relationship that is more equal and more real than his relationship with Elliot. Brad has been his close friend for a long time and they have the trust in each other than was missing in Phillip’s relationship with Elliot. They kiss passionately for the first time before Phillip has to go to his father who has just left home. This could be seen as representing a more open and accepting future for gay men.
This is the best book I have read so far this year and I’m going to say, it will be hard to better. It was moving and compelling. I couldn’t put it down. I will certainly be investing in more of Leavitt’s books.
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