When Michael arrives at the U.S. Navy supply base in Pensacola, Florida, he is immediately plunged into a world he's never before encountered or imagined. Sensitive, street-smart, but wildly naive about the sadistic terrors of the service and the bigotry of the Deep South, he thrashes through a baptism of frustration and despair - until he meets Eden Santana. Eden is everything he's ever dreamed of: older, wiser, nonplussed by his ingenuous ways - the perfect instructor for a Catholic virgin in the art of lovemaking, in sexual pleasure, confidence and courage. Though their steamy passion is destined to dissipate, there is no way Michael can prepare himself for the circumstances under which his enigmatic lover disappears. Their heartbreaking parting becomes entwined with frightening secrets about each other, the South and the friends they make along the way.
As compelling in narrative drive as it is utterly convincing in mood and tone, Loving Women's cinematic immediacy and haunting storytelling signify Pete Hamill writing at the top of his talent.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York, and Cuernavaca, Mexico
Date of Birth:1935
Place of Birth:Brooklyn, New York
Education:Mexico City College, 1956-1957; Pratt Institute
Read an Excerpt
I am on this bed in a cheap motel listening to the growl of the Gulf. My cameras remain in their silvery Halliburton case. I have hung the shirts and jeans in the closet. On the wall there is a fading photograph of the Blue Angels flying in tight formation over Pensacola. There is no room service and I am hungry, but I don’t care to move. It is a week now since my third wife left me, and I am 1,536 miles from home.
It was easy to pack my bags and drive down here, to the places I had not seen in more than thirty years. I was weary of many things: New York and the people I knew there. Photography. Myself. We were in a time of plague. All around me people were dying, as a fierce and murderous virus spread through their blood and destroyed all those immune systems that had made them so briefly human. Each day’s newspaper carried the names of the previous day’s body count. I knew some of them. Their names filled my head as I remembered them in life and tried to imagine their painful final days, but after a few hours they just became part of the blur.
In restaurants with my wife, Rose, in the final weeks, I heard other names staining the air around me: Bernie Goetz. Donna Rice. Ivan Boesky. Fawn Hall. Oliver North. A hundred others. They were chewed along with the food, their squalid tales consumed like everything else in the city that season. I would gaze around, and see the young in their West Side uniforms talking about junk bonds and arbitrage and leveraged buy-outs and treacherous partners, and I would feel suddenly old at fifty-one. I smoked too much, and most nights was growled at in restaurants by the lean young men with the health-club tans, while their women pawed self-righteously at the smoky air. The cigarettes marked me as part of another generation, my style and attitudes (though not my work) shaped by Bogart and Murrow, Camus and Malraux, those once-living icons who jammed cigarettes in their mouths as signals of their manhood, inhaled a billion of them, and died. Worse, I was twenty pounds overweight in a time when eating was paid for by hours at a Nautilus machine. I was not yet old and no longer young, and on the night of my birthday, Rose leaned over and asked me in her gray-eyed, direct way: “Michael, what is it that you want?”
I was quiet for a long while, looking out at the spring crowds parading on Columbus Avenue. I told her: “1953.”
She didn’t understand. In 1953, Rose Donofrio was not yet born. In the months when we were, as they used to say, courting, she would have smiled, and asked what I meant and tried to pry some answer from me. But that night she didn’t really care. That night, Rose had other matters on her mind. That night, Rose blinked at me and shook her head; her gaze drifted away, and when she came back, she told me that she’d met another man and wanted to go and live with him. Her eyes were suddenly liquid, as if she expected some melancholy response from me or some explosion of protest. I couldn’t give her either. That was the problem. That had been the problem for a long time. Rose gave me this fresh information, this trembling admission of betrayal, and it merely drifted like my cigarette smoke into the great blurry fog of other information, along with the contras and the calorie count of sushi. I waved at the waiter and asked for a check and Rose and I walked home in silence. By midnight, we’d agreed that she could keep the loft and I would get the country house. She packed three bags and said she would spend the night at a girlfriend’s house, a fiction to spare my feelings. We’d call the lawyers in the morning.
“You never loved me, did you?” Rose said at the door.
“Yes, I did. More than you’ll ever know.”
She closed the door, all teary now, and I looked at my watch and thought: I’d better go down soon, and buy the Times. Rose had a gift, inherited from her Italian mother, for the melodramatic gesture and the venomous aria, the cutting word and the slammed door. In a way, that was what had attracted me to her when we met, four years earlier at a party on East 71st Street. But I didn’t, or couldn’t, respond any more. There was nothing left in me of such theatrics. Maybe I was just too old. Maybe I had seen too many real bodies in too many real places for too many years. Passion had killed them all. Political passion, or religious passion, or personal passion. And I had known for years that the greatest occupational hazard I faced as a photographer was indifference. So I never plunged into her dark Sicilian storms. And I felt nothing about her abrupt and treacherous departure. It had been a long time since I’d felt anything at all.
But late on that first night alone, emptying my file cabinets and packing cartons in one of the sad ceremonies of departure, something shifted in me. I had little interest in the old tear sheets of my work, the yellowing pages of magazines (some of them dead), the folders full of birth and death certificates, licenses and diplomas. I was too old to be moved by the snapshots of people I’d once loved, and I couldn’t bear to read again the letters from vanished friends, postmarked Saigon or Lagos or Beirut. And then I came up short. Lying flat on the bottom of a file drawer was a thick, dog-eared folder. It was marked in large tight lettering, done in India ink with a Speedball pen, Personal Stuff. There were some letters inside, a group of drawings held together with a rusting paper clip, a few slips of paper bearing phone numbers, and The Blue Notebook.
I was seventeen years old when I had first started writing in The Blue Notebook—a kid in the Navy. And here it was, intact. Improbably, that sweet and serious boy I used to be had survived in its pages into the years of manhood. I set the Notebook aside. I finished packing the files and stacked the cartons along the wall beside the door. I took some pictures off the walls: a drawing by José Luis Cuevas, a painting of city rooftops by Anne Freilicher, a watercolor of Coney Island by David Levine. Over the fireplace was a nude photograph of Rose Donofrio, her hair streaming forward, her features obscured. I left it there. I filled a steamer trunk with winter clothes. I packed three more cartons with records—all those people Rose could not bear to hear: Charlie Parker and Sinatra and Dinah Washington and Wynonie Harris. A hundred others. I sealed the cartons with masking tape, then went down and bought the Times.
But toward morning, lying alone on the futon, staring at light patterns on the ceiling, listening to the slow murmur of the early-morning traffic, my head began to fill with long-gone images. Faces. Sounds. I heard the clatter of palm trees in the Florida night and Hank Williams singing on a jukebox. I smelled great tons of bacon frying in a mess hall. I saw the faces of men I used to know. And a woman I once loved more than life itself.
When I woke that afternoon, I thought I had better go South.
From The Blue Notebook
Journey. n. 1 Travel from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time. 2 A distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling. 3 A period of travel. 4 A passage or progress from one stage to another.
I’ve said good-bye to everybody now. I am going away. They have said their good-byes too, but I don’t think they even know who I am. Not my friends. Not my family. Not the girl I loved. They see me now as Michael Patrick Devlin, USN, a sailor. Just like they used to see me, only a year ago, as a high school student or a stickball player or the crazy kid who drew his own comics. I could tell them (or anyone else who asks) that I was born June 24, 1935, which makes me seventeen and a half. I could tell them that I went to Holy Name School in Brooklyn for eight years and Bishop Loughlin High School for three. I could tell them I have dark blond hair and blue eyes that are turning gray and that I’m five-foot-eleven and weigh 178 pounds. I’m a Dodger fan (of course). For fourteen months I boxed (not very well) at the Police Athletic League as a middleweight. I could tell them that my father was born in Ireland, in the city of Belfast, and that makes me Irish-American. I could tell them that my mother was born in The Bronx and is dead. Catholics. What else? I could tell them I have two younger brothers and a sister. That the greatest book I ever read was Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts. That I want to be a comic-strip artist. But even if I told them all those things, it wouldn’t add up to me.
They don’t really know me, not one of them, and I’m not telling any of them.
I’m going away.
On a journey.
Every Navy man has two jobs: he is a fighting man and a specialist. His fighting duty at his battle station comes first; his daily work and his special jobs are important, too. Each man’s job may seem small, but it is part of the fighting efficiency of his ship. Every man’s job is small compared to the ship as a whole, but if one man falls down on his job, the ship may be lost.
—The Bluejackets’ Manual.
Aunt Margaret asked me when I came home from boot camp what it was that I wanted. I couldn’t tell her. It would have felt as if I were asking her for something, and I don’t want to ever have to ask anyone for anything. But there were some things I wanted: a Parker 51 pen. A television set for my brothers and sister. A telephone too. Rooms with doors. I wanted Craftint paper so I could draw like Roy Crane. A set of Lionel trains. Every one of the Bomba the Jungle Boy series. I wanted to wake up one morning and discover that I looked like a combination of Wiliam Holden and Chet Baker. I wanted a new girl. But when she asked me, I just shrugged and said, “Nothing, Aunt Margaret. I don’t want anything at all.” A complete lie.
Love. n. 1 The profoundly tender or passionate affection for a person of the opposite sex. 2 A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child or friend. 3 Sexual passion or desire, or its gratification. 4 A person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart. 5 A love affair; amour. 6 A personification of sexual affection, as Eros or Cupid. 7 Affectionate concern for the well-being of others. 8 Strong predilection or liking of anything (the ~ of books). 9 The object or thing so liked. 10 The benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although I'm a woman, and this story is most definitely about men, and from the perspective of a young man, I greatly enjoyed reading it. The fact that most of it is set in the mid 50's actually made it much more enjoyable, for the education of what life in that decade was like. The book tackles self-discovery and personal growth, romantic love, racial relations, homosexuality (in the world of the military), and many other themes from the era. It was funny, sad, poignant, all at the same time. I had a hard time putting it down, and I'll now search out any other novels by this author.
I picked this book up at the library and was not able to complete it. It took a while to get it again, but I remembered exactly where I left off a couple of months before, and was able to get right into the story without backtracking. It is a memorable story that shows how racial and gay tensions existed in 1953, and this young man's journey of learning. The intricacies of this learning through experience is one that we can all relate to in one way or another. Pete Hamill is now one of my absolute 'must read' authors.
Mike Devlin is an Irish-American kid from the streets of Brooklyn who, in 1953 at the age of 17, enlists in the Navy and is sent to a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida. Over the course of roughly two years, he is gradually transformed from boy to man and learns in the process that the world holds wonders and terrors that life in Brooklyn did nothing to prepare him for. Pete Hamill sketches the details of time and place with great skill, but he is primarily interested in Mike's evolution as a person. This, too, is handled with great skill, and the use of a much older Mike as an intermittent narrator adds depth and (because we see glimpses of what life will be for him after the Navy) poignancy.Mike's personal journey revolves around his gradual initiation into the mysteries of race, sex, and art: the first by a black corpsman whom he befriends, the second by a mysterious older woman with whom he falls in lust and then in love, and the third by his buddy Miles, who shows him that art can be more than the panels of his beloved comic strips. On a deeper level, it involves his discovery that the world (and people) are far more complicated than he'd ever imagined . . . and his attempt to come to grips with the expanded horizons he's been shown.Summarized this way, the story sounds alarmingly pat, and in some ways it is. The plot is full of twists and turns that readers will see coming well before they actually arrive. I suspect, however, that the predictability is part of Hamill's point. Mike is no dope--a streetwise kid from a big city--but his world is so different from ours that he not only doesn't but *can't* see them coming. He is innocent of the realities of race in the Jim Crow-era South, innocent of 90% of human sexuality, innocent of the ways that people can be shaped by their past. The story is about Mike growing up, but also (implicitly) about how *much* the United States has grown up.All this is told in an engaging, fluid style that keeps the story flowing effortlessly. The scenes of Mikes sexual awakening (numerous and varied) manage to be erotic without slipping into clinical precision or flowery romance-novel euphemism. An impromptu theological debate at a church dance is hysterically funny, and yet manages to ring entirely true. The secondary characters sometimes slip into caricature, but the main characters ring true and human.I don't usually read "mainstream" fiction, and was initially skeptical about this one, but this novel grabbed me from the first chapter and held me for 500 pages . . . no small achievement!
Thoroughly enjoyed this book of Pete Hamill's....he really makes Manhattan come alive for me....so interesting to read of events of my lifetime.