Avoidance

Avoidance

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.

Camp Ironwood, set

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Overview

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.

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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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781555973674
Publisher:
Graywolf Press
Publication date:
11/28/2002
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,394,623
Product dimensions:
6.06(w) x 8.64(h) x 0.79(d)

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