The Kept Man

( 3 )


Now in paperback, from the author of the bestselling The Middlesteins: the novel that's "unabashedly emotional, refreshingly devoid of New York City cynicism, and tenderly funny?" (People).

Jarvis Miller's artist husband has been in a coma for six years. And so, Jarvis has spent these years suspended between hope and grief, paralyzed with longing for a life and a marriage that are slipping away. But then, unexpectedly, Jarvis makes her first new friends in years when she meets ...

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The Kept Man

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Now in paperback, from the author of the bestselling The Middlesteins: the novel that's "unabashedly emotional, refreshingly devoid of New York City cynicism, and tenderly funny?" (People).

Jarvis Miller's artist husband has been in a coma for six years. And so, Jarvis has spent these years suspended between hope and grief, paralyzed with longing for a life and a marriage that are slipping away. But then, unexpectedly, Jarvis makes her first new friends in years when she meets the Kept Man Club: three men whose lifestyles are funded by their successful wives, who gather once a week on laundry day. With their help, she reawakens to the city beyond her Brooklyn apartment, past the pitying eyes of her husband's art dealer and his irresponsible best friend as her future begins to take on the irresistible tingles of possibility for the first time in almost a decade. When a shocking discovery casts a different light on her idealized marriage, she's propelled even further down a path that she would never have dared to imagine just months before. Tender, bold, and unabashed, The Kept Man is a compulsively readable novel about love and loss from one of our most dynamic new storytellers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this lugubrious first novel from Brooklynite Attenberg (Instant Love), Jarvis Miller is a young, pretty "half-widow" in the Williamsburg neighborhood. For six years, her brilliant painter husband, Martin Miller, has lain in a coma in a nursing home, while Jarvis rarely leaves the apartment for more than her once-a-week visit to see him. With frequent musings such as "Waiting for Martin to wake up is a different kind of waiting than waiting for him to die," Jarvis slowly takes steps to go on with her life, and in the process, begins to suspect that her picture-perfect marriage may have been something else entirely. She finds little solace in Alice, Martin's glossy, possessive art dealer, or in Davis, Martin's louche artist friend. What helps the most is a serendipitous friendship with three married men she meets in a Laundromat, "The Kept Men Club"; the three are financially supported by their wives just as Jarvis, former party girl, was supported first by Martin, and now by his legacy. Attenberg gets the Williamsburg cityscape correct but builds almost zero tension with Jarvis's depressive brooding over Martin, his continued hold on her and the decisions she faces. Not for a moment in this airless dirge does Jarvis or her marriage feel credible. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Short story writer Attenberg (Instant Love) successfully demonstrates her talent and experience in her debut novel. Her heroine is Jarvis, a dark-haired young woman of Irish descent whose offbeat beauty gets her noticed everywhere. Even rising art star Martin Miller has to have her, and their marriage is one of funky, punk-rock counterculture bliss in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. And then the unthinkable happens-at the brink of fame, Martin suffers a fall that leaves him in a coma. As the months turn into years with Martin suspended in time, Jarvis's devotion to him continues-even as her life moves forward without him. Her serendipitous meeting of new friends through a local Laundromat widens Jarvis's horizons and leads her to delve into the history of Martin's work. What she finds shakes her world and the foundation of their happy (but dormant) marriage. An engaging and innovative first novel for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ9/1/07.]
—Beth Gibbs

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594483516
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/6/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 998,799
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg is the author of the novels The Middlesteins and The Kept Man and of the story collection Instant Love. She has written for The New York Times, New York, Salon, Nylon, Print, Nerve, and others. Chicago native, she lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Reading Group Guide

Jami Attenberg’s The Kept Man is a poetic meditation on love and loss, told from the perspective of a woman facing an unbearable dilemma. Set in Brooklyn, New York, the story follows a pivotal summer in the life of Jarvis Miller, whose husband, Martin, has spent the last six years in an irreversible coma. Although the possibility of his recovery has long since vanished, Jarvis has been unable to move on. Martin’s sudden rise to fame in the art world—fueled by the tragedy of his untimely debilitation—has allowed her to retreat completely, surrounded by his artwork and supported by the income it generates. She spends her days and nights cocooned in the loft they once shared, leaving only to visit him at the assisted living facility that keeps his inert body alive. Jarvis cannot bear to let her husband die, but she has also grown increasingly aware that she cannot move forward while he is still living.

Jarvis’ road out of her own semi-comatose state begins with a random mishap: her washing machine breaks down. Forced to leave home in search of a laundromat, she makes the acquaintance of three intriguing men who refer to themselves as the “Kept Man Club”—each member supported by a financially successful wife. Jarvis turns to these men for friendship, but one of them, Mal, is interested in something more, and another, Scott, is slowly capturing her heart. Energized by these new relationships, Jarvis begins to take a more active approach to her life, including her duties as gatekeeper to Martin’s estate. Martin’s art dealer, Alice, and his best friend, Davis, seem particularly anxious to keep her away from a specific series of photos taken over the course of their marriage. Dreading what she may find but determined to know the truth, Jarvis talks her way into Alice’s studio and makes off with the photos. The images they capture reveal a different side of Martin—one that was seemingly less devoted to her than Jarvis had ever suspected.

At its heart, The Kept Man is a deftly observed character study of a complex and fascinating woman. At once vulnerable and bold, Jarvis Miller is an engrossingly believable heroine whose mistakes are as revealing as her triumphs. Anger at her husband’s hidden past leads Jarvis first into Mal’s bedroom and then to a humiliating rejection by Scott. Through these impulsive and at times ill-conceived actions, she finds a way to forgive her husband, and through forgiveness comes to peace with the idea of letting him go. Although the decision to remove Martin from life support whips up a firestorm of protests and condemnation, Jarvis remains committed to her course of action. While the outside world debates questions of morality, Jarvis remains driven by love—a love strong enough, finally, to say goodbye.


Jami Attenberg is the author of the story collection Instant Love. She has written for Jane, Salon, Nylon, Print, the San Francisco Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, and Time Out New York, and her fiction has appeared in Nerve, Pindeldyboz, Spork, and Bullfight Review. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


  • Missy’s estimation of the “kept men” is harsh: “Not for nothing, Jarvis, but where I come from, we’d call these guysmaricones.” Do you agree with her assessment? What is your impression of these characters?
  • Jarvis’ observations about Williamsburg, Brooklyn—a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood—form a running thread throughout the book. Why do you think the author chose to set her story in this location? What do Jarvis’ thoughts about her neighborhood reveal about her character? Is there a thematic significance to this setting?
  • Jarvis is fascinated by Sylvie Porter’s series of photographs depicting a cat on the streets of the East Village. Another cat hisses at Jarvis in Martin’s room, and Sylvie Porter later connects the two in her deteriorating mind. Discuss the symbolic importance of the cat, and how it connects to the larger themes of the novel.
  • Jarvis is very aware of appearances: her fondest images of her family revolve around the way they dressed; her first impression of the “kept men” is based on their looks and their style; her selection of a dress for Scott’s dinner party is calculated to produce a specific effect. How does this focus on appearances shape Jarvis’ character? How does it inform her relationship with her husband and his work?
  • At one point, Jarvis reflects on her relationship with her father, asking, “Is she cruel for abandoning her father? …the man she knew as her father is no longer there.… There is an exterior, there is a shell, a skin, but inside, he’s gone.” How does this relationship affect the choices Jarvis makes in her life, specifically regarding her husband? What parallels can be drawn between her experience with her father and with Martin?
  • Early on, Mal recounts the story of his brother-in-law, who went fly-fishing in Montana for one weekend and ended up leaving his girlfriend to live there. Near the end, we learn of Martin’s similar disappearance to a cabin along the Snake River in Oregon. What is the significance of these parallel tales to the story and themes of the novel?
  • Jarvis remembers Martin as a man whose “entire life, every ounce of it, every breath, was committed to creating art.” But she also wonders, “…who was he besides an artist? And who was I to him? Nothing more than part of a palette.” Do you think she is right in this assessment? Overall, what impression of artists and their art does the book leave you with?
  • The story of The Kept Man bears obviously similarities to the Terri Schiavo case. Did reading this book affect your opinion on the issues involved? Do you believe that if Jarvis had eventually “pulled the plug” on her husband that it would have been morally justifiable?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2008

    A reviewer

    I was looking forward to reading a new author and decided that the plot on this book sounded good. I thought it was going to be an uplifting book but it wasn't. I 'pulled the bookmark' at page 60 since it was very depressing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Pleasant Reading

    I enjoyed the book, it was easy to read and kept my interest.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2008

    Keep Reading

    I agree with the first reviewer, the first part is depressing, but I gets better. You come to care about this woman and wonder what you would do in her situation. I loved the book and could not wait to see what happened.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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