Avoidance by Michael Lowenthal, Paperback | Barnes & Noble


4.6 5
by Michael Lowenthal

Jeremy struggles to write his dissertation on the Amish and the laws of expulsion. How does someone, excluded entirely from the only community they have ever known, live the rest of their life? After extensive interviews with Beulah—a young woman banished—Jeremy is no closer to understanding her choice than he is to his own peculiar exile.



Jeremy struggles to write his dissertation on the Amish and the laws of expulsion. How does someone, excluded entirely from the only community they have ever known, live the rest of their life? After extensive interviews with Beulah—a young woman banished—Jeremy is no closer to understanding her choice than he is to his own peculiar exile.

Camp Ironwood, set in the Vermont woods, is more than a summer distraction for restless adolescent boys—it is a place to belong. And not unlike the Amish community, it is a place where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For Jeremy, first as a camper and later as the co-director, the usual camp activities become their own kind of ritual that binds the community. But when he is blindsided by the seductive charm of Max, a fourteen-year-old boy from Manhattan, all arms and legs and attitude, Jeremy must confront his desires, and worse yet, uncover the dark secrets of his beloved Camp Ironwood.

In the powerful and daring novel Avoidance, Lowenthal elegantly draws unexpected parallels between the Amish and Camp Ironwood. By doing so, he ingeniously explores an age-old dilemma: individual desires versus the good of a community.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This finely etched second novel by Lowenthal (The Same Embrace) tells the story of Jeremy Stull, a Harvard graduate student who has lived with the Amish and spends most of his time researching the lives of those excommunicated from Amish communities. During the summer, he is also the assistant director of Camp Ironwood, a haven in the Vermont woods for troubled boys. As he probes the personal lives of these two groups, Jeremy struggles with his own latent homosexuality. Nearly celibate, Jeremy has put off confronting sexual desires that make him uncomfortable, but this comes to an end with the arrival at Ironwood of Max Conner, a charismatic 14-year-old with a tragic family history. In taming the insubordinate Max, Jeremy is reminded of his own childhood, the death of his father and his history at the camp. He also sees some of his own quandaries reflected in the life of Beulah Glick, a lonely Amish woman who decided to leave the fold rather than shun her excommunicated husband. Lowenthal deftly weaves together scenes of Amish and camp life; juxtaposing these two tightly knit communities, he explores the appeal of highly structured, restrictive collectives as well as questions of temptation and self-mastery, faith and belonging. Lowenthal has a fine ear for the vernaculars of urban campers, Harvard academics and the cloistered, bilingual Amish, and he handles the potentially explosive subject of Jeremy's unrequited attraction to Max with subtlety and sensitivity. These different elements form a rich, complex narrative that is as inspiring as it is thought provoking. Agent, Mitchell Waters. (Nov.) Forecast: This moving, unusual sophomore effort should bolster Lowenthal's reputation and build his readership. A stunning jacket photo and a six-city author tour will help attract attention. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Disturbed and displaced by the death of his father as a little boy, Jeremy finds his roots and, indeed, his avocation at Camp Ironwood, where he began as a camper and rose to assistant camp director. In the winter months, as a graduate student Jeremy studies the Amish people, with particular emphasis on their practice of shunning. Social avoidance and marking those who differ from what is learned may be formalized in the Amish community, but it is very similar to socialization at a boy's camp and to the larger community's reaction to homosexuality. By interweaving and comparing those three types of social avoidance, as well as studying what it means to protect kinship and fellowship, Lowenthal (The Same Embrace) shows what it means to be a fallible human. At times haunting and disturbing, his second novel teaches a quiet lesson: one person can, in fact, rein in individual desires and create a community that is stronger than the sum of its parts and thereby find personal redemption. With beautiful characterizations of the boys at Ironwood and a lyrical rendering of a man's conflicting spiritual pulls, Avoidance is not to be missed. Highly recommended. Caroline M. Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Gay angst at summer camp in Lowenthal's second (after The Same Embrace, 1998). Jeremy Stull makes a habit of investigating strange worlds. From an ordinary suburban family in northeastern Maryland, he has drifted farther and farther from the Beltway, both geographically and psychologically. As a boy, he went to a summer camp called Ironwood in the wilds of Vermont. Later, he enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard and went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to study the Amish communities. Rootless and disconnected from his family, Jeremy admires the social cohesion of the Amish, who depend upon the fellowship of their congregations for protection from the larger world. The closest comparable sense of belonging Jeremy ever had was at Camp Ironwood, where he still spends his summers, but now as a counselor. This year, however, Ironwood isn't quite the same. A strange boy in Jeremy's group named Max has an air of mystery about him. A New Yorker, Max comes from a broken family and lives with his grandparents. He has that cheap sophistication that Jeremy associates with city kids, but there's a vulnerable side to him-which becomes more pronounced when Jeremy discovers that much of Max's history is a fiction (right down to his name). Long before Jeremy unravels Max's secrets, it's apparent he's in love with the boy, but the ensuing trouble isn't quite what you would expect. Jeremy discovers that another counselor is abusing the campers, using drugs as an inducement, and Max is implicated. The scandal is dealt with, and Max seems to take it in stride, but Jeremy-who never laid a finger on him-is shaken all the same. "Do you understand?" he asks Max. "I wanted to. I still do." Sometimes, it seems, thefantasy can be as real (and as disturbing) as the deed. Less heavy breathing than one might expect, though still a trifle overwrought.

Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.06(w) x 8.64(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Michael Lowenthal

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2002 Michael Lowenthal
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55597-367-1

Chapter One

Try to imagine not even knowing how to fall, because a hand was always, always there to catch you. Two sisters, five brothers, a hundred cousins. At her one-room Amish school, built on Uncle Christian's farm, a third of the pupils shared her surname. Her plain, aproned dresses and organdy prayer caps were her sisters' hand-me-downs, sewn by their mother. The clothes of every girl she knew were stitched identically, right down to the width of their Kapp seams.

But that was Beulah Glick's life before. What I wanted to know was why she'd left. How?

We were sharing a booth at the Plain & Fancy Diner, in blink-and-miss-it Gap, Pennsylvania. My first field interview, four years ago. Twenty-five and enthused about my new research topic, I'd read Hostetler, Kraybill, Huntington; I'd browsed the Pequea Bruderschaft Library. I'd never spoken to someone "in the ban."

Despite Indian-summer heat I was dressed in blue chinos and a buttoned poly shirt that showed my sweat - not too city-slick, not too academic. Beulah sat rigid, arms locked to her sides, as though the booth were a plunging roller coaster. She wore a gray blouse and a brown knee-length skirt, misfitting store-bought clothes. Her hair was still yanked back, Amish-style, from a center part. The bald streak from years of tightening looked painful.

I ordered the farmer's special: three pancakes, three eggs, a side of scrapple. (In Lancaster County, appetite triumphs diplomas.) Beulah asked for coffee - no sugar, no cream - and, as an afterthought, two eggs. Waiting for the food, she barely spoke. Shyness around an unfamiliar man? Maybe shame? Or the meek temper of Gelassenheit. It's the personal submission the Amish strive for - the self-denial for community's sake - and a lack of it was Beulah's supposed crime. To me, she could hardly have seemed more yielding. When her eggs came, she only poked them with her fork.

I can't bring myself to touch my food, either. Why'd I bother smuggling it into the library? The air in here, freeze-dried, feels worse than outside's scorch. Saturday evening. Most of Harvard's fled.

Congealing in Styrofoam, shrimp pad thai fouls my carrel; Thai iced tea glares the shade of fake tans. And what I'm craving, believe it or not, is a hot dog. A humble hot dog, third-degreed on a stick. Let it fall from the stick, even; spice it strong with ash and mulch. I'd eat it anyway. That's the spirit - summer camp!

Who'd have thought I'd wax nostalgic for wieners? Or s'mores? Or bug juice, toxic with red dye? First-night fare I used to rail against in staff meetings. ("Why pander to kids' preconceptions of camp? Ironwood's different. We should show them from the start.") But Charlie Moss was director; he called the shots. Comfort food is always best on first night, he insisted. We had all summer for Camp Ironwood values.

Not this summer. Not for us. Not for Max.

Max's cast - well, half of it - sits up on the shelf, propped against the tools of my trade (The Riddle of Amish Culture; Habits of the Heart). And where is Max himself, his wrist now healed, strong again? I haven't heard anything since camp ended.


Excerpted from Avoidance by Michael Lowenthal Copyright © 2002 by Michael Lowenthal . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Michael Lowenthal is the author of a previous novel, The Same Embrace, and is editor of many nonfiction collections. He currently teaches writing at Boston College.

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