The Page Turner

The Page Turner

by David Leavitt

At the age of eighteen Paul Porterfield dreams of playing piano at the world's great concert halls, yet the closest he's come has been to turn pages for his idol, Richard Kennington, a former prodigy who is entering middle age. The two begin a love affair that affects their lives in ways neither could have predicted. "Absorbing from start to finish" (The New Yorker

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At the age of eighteen Paul Porterfield dreams of playing piano at the world's great concert halls, yet the closest he's come has been to turn pages for his idol, Richard Kennington, a former prodigy who is entering middle age. The two begin a love affair that affects their lives in ways neither could have predicted. "Absorbing from start to finish" (The New Yorker), The Page Turner testifies to the tenacity of the human spirit and the resiliency of the human heart.

Editorial Reviews

Spectacularly effective fiction.
Peter Kurth

For a writer whose name has lately become almost synonymous with literary controversy, and as one of the acknowledged lights of contemporary gay fiction, David Leavitt has always written in a surprisingly conventional, non-inflammatory tone. His last novel, of course, the ill-fated While England Sleeps, was pulled from the shelves on both sides of the Atlantic after Sir Stephen Spender charged him with plagiarism, and was only reissued in the United States after Leavitt agreed to rewrite it. Later, one of the novellas in Arkansas, his triptych of writerly woe, having been sold for serialization to Esquire, was killed by the magazine's editor, who feared advertiser objections to its sexual content. The memory of these disasters and the media attention that followed might account for the fact that Leavitt's latest offering, The Page Turner, offers nothing in the way of surprises. It's as if Leavitt were hedging his bets and covering all bases in an effort to avoid a third run of the gantlet.

The Page Turner is a slight, ruminative book, too short for its scope, the story of the love affair between Paul Porterfield, an 18-year-old aspiring pianist, and his musical and artistic idol, the former child prodigy Richard Kennington. When we first meet Paul, he is about to graduate from high school in California, intent on a concert career and getting ready to study at Julliard. He meets Kennington unexpectedly in San Francisco, when he is asked at the last minute to step onstage as page turner for his hero. Their brief encounter leaves Paul in a whirl of desire and the normally fastidious, 40ish Kennington struggling with an erection when he ought to be thinking about Beethoven.

"He closed his eyes," Leavitt writes, "tried to will it away, for he couldn't very well walk out on stage like that. And yet despite his efforts to fill his mind only with the Archduke, an image of Paul on all fours, with his shorts around his knees, materialized immediately on the insides of his eyelids." But when Paul and Kennington finally do have sex, having met up again accidentally in Rome, Leavitt discreetly draws the curtain on the scene -- he is concerned not with his characters' sexual activities, but their human and emotional needs. Complicating the relations between Kennington and Paul is Paul's unhappy mother, Pamela, recently dumped by Paul's father and mistaking Kennington's attentions to her son as a thinly veiled desire for her. Then there's Kennington's much older lover and manager, Joseph, who provides the disillusioned counterpoint to Paul's and Kennington's Roman interlude.

It's hard to know what Leavitt's message is, apart from the glaringly -- and sentimentally -- obvious. "Don't have any illusions about pain," Paul's piano teacher has told him. "Only a child believes that joy is infinite and suffering is short." Leavitt writes sweetly, as usual, while flitting all over the map in his effort to deal with all of his characters equally. It's a mistake: The Page Turner is too thin to carry the weight of so many sadder-but-wiser souls. -- Salon

Chicago Tribune
A wizard at blending levity and pathos, Leavitt writes gracefully about wounded, acutely self-conscious characters.
LA Times Book Review
Confessional, audacious and outrageous...This is classic Leavitt -- writing with subtlety, maturity and compassion about the complexity and fragility of human relationships.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This flat novel of music, ambition and love is unfortunately not the enticing work-in-progress by the fictional "David Leavitt" in the far more accomplished and entertaining novella "The Term Paper Artist" (from the collection Arkansas). Eighteen-year-old Paul Porterfield hopes for a career as a classical pianist and is thrilled to achieve his "debut" turning pages for his idol, the vaguely van Cliburn-esque Richard Kennington. This would be the only intersection of their careers were it not for a coincidental encounter later that summer in Rome, where Paul and his philistine mother, Pamela, are on vacation. Mutually infatuated, Paul and Kennington carry on an affair unbeknownst to Pamela (who develops her own crush on Kennington). Kennington abruptly leaves because of an emotional crisis at home in New York (the beloved dachshund of his longtime manager and lover dies), but the summer fling spoils in Manhattan, as Paul (now at Julliard) faces his lack of talent and Kennington cracks under the middle-aged pressures of being a former child prodigy. Neither character's sketchy story, however, has much emotional weight. Only Pamela, one of Leavitt's characteristically strong maternal figures, transcends her stereotype. Her farcically frustrated ambitions barely keep up the tempo in this dubiously titled orchestration of tired themes.
Library Journal
Leavitt, in his first novel since the controversial While England Sleeps (Houghton, 1995), proves once again that he can accomplish much through his clean, spare narrative style. A master at creating the internal dither we experience when we misunderstand our surroundings, Leavitt relies on irony to explore the world of mismatched characters as they attempt to create, but mostly ruin, relationships. Paul Porterfield is the title character, an 18-year-old would-be pianist who is called upon to turn pages for his musical idol, the fortysomething Richard Kennington. They fall in love a few months later. Add to this mix Paul's mother, who also falls for Kennington, and Kennington's much older male lover of more than 20 years. Mistrust, abandonment, and betrayal abound, and each character knows all too well what those things are. But the hope for love is plentiful, and that is the substance of the novel. With each turn of the page, we uncover the mystery of love in the characters' lives as they experience it. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.Roger W. Durbin, Univ. of Akron Libs., Ohio
Elizabeth Gleick
...a perfectly enjoyable read....The Page Turner is a portrait of the aspiring artist as a young man....the author achieves clarity, even flashes of poetry. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Another intimate and knowingþalbeit also wearingþportrayal of gay life in America from the author of such well-received fiction as, most recently, last year's Arkansas. Leavitt's venue this time is the world of classical music performance. We meet his protagonist, Paul Porterfield, as a hopeful 18-year-old pianist who is chosen to turn pages at a concert performed by his idol Richard Kennington. Paul is smitten, and when a trip to Rome with his mother coincides with Kennington's Italian tour, he seeks out the older man. It's apparent that Richard will not abandon his sustaining relationship with his manager (and lover) back home, Joseph Mansourianþand also that Paul's brush with musical genius will doom him to a parallel frustration (as his elderly tutor warns: "It's best to decide now whether you can bear accenting a secondary role"). Paul, Kennington, and Mansourian are all introspective characters whose ruminations are presented in generous detail (though Paul remains somewhat opaque until relatively late in the novel)þas is Paul's mother Pamela, who's at some times a doting nincompoop straight out of sitcoms, at others a credibly aggrieved woman who's lost her adulterous husband and is determined not to lose her son (to a man who, she briefly believes, loves her). The charactersþ interactions occur in a world where virtually everybody is linked either by being gay or by having a gay loved one. If this hothouse atmosphere feels oppressive, it must also be said that the book is graced by brisk dialogue and sharp, suggestive images (of flight and fall, and, interestingly, of cats), and that sudden shifts from simple observer to godlike omniscience innarration keep the reader intrigued as well as exasperated. Leavitt marches on, to a tune that's becoming monotonous. This is a writer who needs a new subject, or at least a new perspective on what looks increasingly like the only subject he's interested in.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.93(w) x 8.57(h) x 1.03(d)

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