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Cast in Doubt

Cast in Doubt

by Lynne Tillman, Wayne Koestenbaum (Introduction)

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While the tumultuous 1970s rock the world around them, a collection of aging expatriates linger in a quiet town on the island of Crete, where they have escaped their pasts and their present. Among them is Horace, a gay American writer who fears he has finally reached old age. Friends only frustrate him, and his youthful Greek lover provides little satisfaction.


While the tumultuous 1970s rock the world around them, a collection of aging expatriates linger in a quiet town on the island of Crete, where they have escaped their pasts and their present. Among them is Horace, a gay American writer who fears he has finally reached old age. Friends only frustrate him, and his youthful Greek lover provides little satisfaction. Idling his time away with alcohol and working on a novel that he will never finish, Horace feels closer than ever to his own sorry end.

That is, until a young, enigmatic American woman named Helen joins his crowd of outsiders. In Helen, Horace discovers someone brilliant, beautiful, and stubbornly mysterious — in short, she becomes his absolute obsession.

But as Horace knows, people have a way of preserving their secrets even as they try to forget them. Soon, Helen’s past begins to follow her to Crete. A suicidal ex-lover appears without warning; whispers of her long-dead sister surface in local gossip; and signs of ancient Gypsy rituals come to the fore. Helen vanishes. Deep down, Horace knows that he must find her before he can find any peace within himself.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Clever, witty, passionately written.... Lynne Tillman writes with such elan, such spirited delight and comic intelligence that it is difficult to take anything but pleasure....” — Douglas Glover, Washington Post Book World

“With Cast in Doubt, Lynne Tillman achieves several different kinds of miracles. She moves into the skin of a sixtyish male homosexual novelist so effortlessly that the reader immediately loses sight of the illusion and accepts the narrator as a real person. Alongside the narrator we move into the gossipy, enclosed world of English and American artists and madmen living in Crete, and at every step, as the play of consciousness suggests, alerts, and alters, are made aware of a terrible chaos that seems only just out of sight. But what impresses me most about Cast in Doubt is the great and powerful subtlety with which it peers out of itself — Tillman's intelligence and sophistication have led her toward a quality I can only call grace. Like Stein, Ashbery, and James, this book could be read over and over, each time with deepening delight and appreciation.” — Peter Straub

“Tingly, crisp, and wry.... Delightfully clever and probing.” — Donna Seaman, Booklist

”Tillman's evocation of Horace and his life among ruins both geographic and aesthetic is a tour de force. Cast in Doubt recasts every genre it touches-the expatriate novel, the mystery, the novel of ideas-like a multiply haunted house of both form and identity.” — Voice Literary Supplement, Best Books of 1992

”If you can keep up with him, Horace will take you all kinds of places.... I was unwilling to close the cover and break the spell. I turned the book over and started over again.” — Boston Phoenix

“A private eye in the public sphere, [Tillman] refuses no assignment and distils the finest wit, intelligence and hard evidence from some of the world's most transient artifacts and allegories. This is a truly memorable book.” — Andrew Ross

"Tillman . . . casts doubt on the basis of human cognition and our subjective knowledge of other people [in] this literate, diverting story." — Publishers Weekly

Praise for Lynne Tillman:

"One of America's most challenging and adventurous writers." — Guardian

"Lynne Tillman has always been a hero of mine — not because I 'admire' her writing, (although I do, very, very much), but because I feel it. Imagine driving alone at night. You turn on the radio and hear a song that seems to say it all. That's how I feel..." — Jonathan Safran Foer

"Like an acupuncturist, Lynne Tillman knows the precise points in which to sink her delicate probes. One of the biggest problems in composing fiction is understanding what to leave out; no one is more severe, more elegant, more shocking in her reticences than Tillman." — Edmund White

“Anything I’ve read by Tillman I’ve devoured.” — Anne K. Yoder, The Millions

"If I needed to name a book that is maybe the most overlooked important piece of fiction in not only the 00s, but in the last 50 years, [American Genius, A Comedy] might be the one. I could read this back to back to back for years." — Blake Butler, HTML Giant

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Horace, a gay American crime novelist in his 60s who is given to drinking and depression, narrates this tale of his obsessive fascination with Helen, an enigmatic, sexually freewheeling 20-year-old who comes to teach English on Crete, where Horace presides over a motley band of expatriates. When she abruptly disappears, he sets off through southern Crete to find her. Does Helen, a psychiatrist's daughter, feel guilty about her sister's alleged suicide? Is she traveling under an assumed name? As Horace wrestles with these and other questions, this philosophical thriller, set in the years 1975-1980, bogs down in literary chitchat and digressions about Gertrude Stein, Andy Warhol, politics, Horace's dreams and his novels. The colorful cast includes a South African poet and anti-apartheid activist, a cranky English hermit, a former singer, Horace's surly young Greek boyfriend and Helen's spurned suitor, a failed suicide. Tillman ( Haunted Houses ) casts doubt on the basis of human cognition and our subjective knowledge of other people, but her focus on a rather stereotypical gay male sensibility diminishes this literate, diverting story. Author tour. (Sept.)
Library Journal
By the author of Motion Sickness ( LJ 2/15/91) and Haunted House ( LJ 3/1/87), this novel tells the story of Horace, an older gay American writer living in Crete in 1975. A faintly mysterious American girl named Helen becomes his neighbor. She fascinates Horace, and a shallow friendship develops. Meanwhile, he recounts his life as other friends drop by and more stories get told. Then Helen disappears, and Horace goes to look for her. ``I was tired of everyone and everything, just as I am now, come to think of it,'' Horace mentions midway through the book. Rest assured, the reader has already had the same thought. Plot developments and the creation of a mystery are too little, too late. Horace's ennui is contagious, and Tillman never solves the conundrum of how to make a bored narrator an interesting storyteller.-- Brian Kenney, Brooklyn P.L.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
20th Anniversary Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Cast in Doubt, Chapter 3:

"Don't you think it is terrible what young Helen did to poor John?" My first impulse is to say, Who is John? But then I vaguely recall having seen in the distance a lanky, longhaired, nondescript guy—I can't think of him as a man—wandering in town about the time Helen arrived; then I saw him no more. Or did I? Dear, what did she do to him? I ask. I really have no idea.

Alicia won't believe this as I have intentionally laid into my voice a qualified archness, and so she will believe that I know what I don't. I hate not knowing what everyone else knows. She continues and divulges, more or less in this fashion, that John followed Helen here after she refused to marry him. Helen led him on. She allowed him to follow her here and now she refuses even to see him. She abandoned him and the poor boy has tried to kill himself. Ah, I retort, you mean that boy. Alicia, he's not a child, after all, and if she doesn't love him . . .

I'm playing for time. Alicia goes on: John is in the hospital and even now Helen refuses to go to him. And he nearly died. Helen was horrible to him. It's bad enough that she didn't want his child and had an abortion when he didn't want her to.

At this revelation I open my eyes very wide, surely they are popping out. Alicia, dear, are you really in a position to blame a young girl just setting out in life for not wanting to be hampered with a child from a man, a boy, who's wet behind the ears, one she doesn't love? Alicia says nothing and looks toward the harbor. And giving up a child for adoption is better? I continue.

Now Alicia's eyes widen and perhaps it will be this very moment when she can no longer contain within her that horrible secret—the abandoned child, the reckless life she led—but no, she just closes her eyes, takes a breath, during which time she collects herself so as to be able to dissemble, and says, I wouldn't know. I suppose I don't really approve of abortion. Then I say something to the effect that it is a good thing she is living here rather than in the States because she would surely be out of touch with the women who have recently won the battle for reproductive rights. I feel foolish putting it that way, as if I were making a speech. Perhaps my feminist ancestors are speaking through me, though probably they wouldn't have approved of abortion, either. Come to think of it, in the first half of the nineteenth century it was not illegal. Still it is strange to argue what I assume to be the woman's side with a woman. I would not call myself a feminist, as I am uncomfortable with almost any label, and also, as I am a man, and rather uncomfortable generally with professing to understand completely the woman's point of view, I hesitate to make the assertion. Yet I don't really believe my being a man ought to prevent me from supporting or voicing support for the cause.

Alicia and I agree to disagree with some regularity—she maintains eclectic and inconsistent positions and has erratic views, some more obsolete than my own, some more advanced. In this case, her position demonstrates her stubbornness and a sort of prissy old-fashionedness that may be evidence, or the cause, of her enduring secretiveness. Actually I don't believe Alicia fully subscribes to what she is saying. I'm sure she's had abortions, as most free-thinking women who have sex lives usually have had. She is being irrational. Perhaps this is serious.

John visited me days before he—Alicia pauses—before he slit his throat. Slit his throat, I repeat after her, how ghastly. I love the word ghastly. Now I am thinking, there may be more to John, whoever he is, than I imagined.

Meet the Author

Lynne Tillman (New York, NY) is the author of five novels, three collections of short stories, one collection of essays and two other nonfiction books. She collaborates often with artists and writes regularly on culture, and her fiction is anthologized widely. Her last collection of short stories, This Is Not It, included 23 stories based on the work of 22 contemporary artists. Her novels include American Genius, A Comedy (2006), No Lease on Life (1998) which was a New York Times Notable Book of 1998 and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Cast in Doubt (1992), Motion Sickness (1991), and Haunted Houses (1987). The Broad Picture (1997) collected Tillman’s essays, which were published in literary and art periodicals. She is the Fiction Editor at Fence Magazine, Professor and Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at the University at Albany, and a recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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