Grief: A Novel

Grief: A Novel

by Andrew Holleran
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Grief 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Andrew Holleran may not be the most prolific writer on the scene ('The Beauty of Men', 'In September, the Light Changes', 'Dancer from the Dance', 'Nights in Aruba') but he most assuredly one of our finest. His extraordinarily well-crafted novels, novellas, and short stories can be appreciated on many levels - interest of theme (Holleran is one of the few writers who find writing about gay life as natural a topic for creating universal themes as any other), quality of prose (liquid, rich in imagery and atmosphere, and creatively eloquent), and pertinence of philosophy. In a brief 150 pages Holleran relates via an unnamed narrator the experiences of life in its brevity and death in its finality. Having moved from Florida where he had been the caretaker of his ill mother with whom he never discussed his life as a gay man and suffers from her loss as well as his own regret that he never allowed his mother to know him, our narrator accepts a university job in Washington, DC teaching a seminar on AIDS and its impact on literature. He rents a room from a middle-aged gay man whose home on Dupont Circle has seen a failed relationship and whose presence is absence: these two men avoid communication that might uncover secrets painfully buried in each man's private grief. Aside from his teaching and occasional walking (Washington has rarely been so beautifully described in words of a novel) and talking with an old friend, his only activity is reading the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln written after the death of the President, pages that mirror the life and times of the men who populate this story. There is no true beginning or end in this treatise on the sanctity of life, yet it allows Holleran to interject some of the more slowly meaningful passages he has yet written. In referring to his landlord 'the problem was that we were both too polite. Manners are counterproductive when they make you wonder about a person's true feelings'. In describing the nation's capital as a living space '...Washington, I thought, where life was so comfortable because it was so artificial, as if living under a glass roof, or in some parlor where a boy was laid amidst the lilies'. And 'At every concert...there was a piece - sometimes only a passage - that made you feel someone else (the composer) has understood, had known, your grief, that life was worth living because of music. At the same time, this music...also made it clear that you had been fooling yourself in attempting to go on with your life...'. And yet Holleran has not written a book about terminal depression. In the end he quotes the mother of one of his friends who'd died from AIDS: ('How do you make amends when the person you wronged is dead?') 'I suppose by doing something good to those who are still alive. I think often of a line from Sophocles - we have all eternity to please the dead, but only a little while to love the living.' And the sweet brevity of life glows in Holleran's words. This is not only a fine work of literature: this is also incandescent writing about living. And it is one of the finer books of the year. Grady Harp
mak49 More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful book. Maybe it has some special poignancy for male gay readers, but I'm a woman, and not gay, and I think all of us (grievers) can be enriched by its reading. If for nothing more than to smell the spring flowers, experience Washington at dawn, run with a dog.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
The narrator in Andrew Holleran's sparse novella, goes to Washington, D. C. at the suggestion of a old friend, Frank. He will to teach literature for a semester in an unnamed school and rents a room in a row house from an unnamed landlord¿although we do know that his dog is named Biscuit. The narrator had been in Gainesville, Florida for the last twelve years, taking care of a mother in a nursing home. She recently died; and he is dealing with her death. He is also addition a lonely survivor of the AIDS epidemic that swept the U. S. in the early 80's.

I have read practically everything Mr. Holleran ever wrote, Along with Felice Picano, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Edmund White, Christopher Cox, and George Whitmore, he founded The Violet Quill¿considered to be the path breaking gay male literary nucleus of the 20th Century.

Holleran writes beautiful, descriptive prose and gives a myriad of details about his three main characters as well as the City of Washington that the narrator doesn't like very much. Holleran makes the landlord come alive: "He had his house, he had his friends, his WILL & GRACE¿and that was it. At fifty-five things had stopped happening to him, I suspected. Nothing happened to him anymore. Or rather: Everything that did had already happened before¿many, many times. . . He reminded me of an older America that had never changed its values of thrift, cleanliness, and order; the only difference was that he was homosexual. . . The homosexual part, however, was now inactive. He was now a sort of homosexual emeritus."

We also learn that the landlord was more attractive now than when he was younger, although his face indicates that "his looks had not brought him peace of mind." He also cooks a lot of chicken parts at one time and throws them in the refrigerator to eat on an unchanging nightly schedule. The narrator fares every worse. He discovers a book in his room of the Life and Letters of Mary Todd Lincoln and spends a great amount of his free time reading her letters. He gets immersed in her book and absorbs her grief, that followed Lincoln¿s death.

Holleran, through the narrator, speaks eloquently and often on the subject of grief. ¿The only cure for grief is time, but some people need more time than others and some people never get over a loss; if they stop grieving, they no longer have that loved one.¿ The dead live in our hearts¿often the living feel guilty for surviving. The narrator also carries the burden of knowing that he did not honor his mother's request to be taken home from the nursing home to die, in her own bedroom, surrounding by her own furniture, and that he never told her he was homosexual, even when she asked.

Those of us who lived through the horrors of the early years of the AIDS epidemic certainly can see glimpses of our friends and ourselves in these characters. In Grief, Holleran summons voices from the past as he handles grief masterfully..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KenCady More than 1 year ago
This a rather odd book which details the relationship between a roomer and his landlord after the roomer's mother has passed away. Touching on grief in it's many facets, particularly involving AIDS, Holleran has much to say, and he does it in short order. Nonetheless it is odd to eavesdrop on the landlord as he goes about his life, and one wonders why this particular relationship was chosen.