With his eighth novel, A Ship Made of Paper, Spencer reprises the theme of consuming love, but this time he makes his lovers adults in their late 30's. They are Daniel Emerson, who lives with his wife in all but name, Kate Ellis, and her daughter, Ruby, and Iris Davenport, married to Hampton Davenport and mother to Nelson, all residents of Leyden, N.Y., a Hudson Valley town where some of Spencer's other books have been set. Daniel is white and Iris is black, but race is less a subject of this book than a device it uses, as is the O. J. Simpson trial, compulsively followed by Kate, who writes magazine articles condemning Simpson as a murderer. Ostensibly, ''A Ship Made of Paper'' examines the consequences of Daniel and Iris's love and asks if it is worth the suffering it causes to those around them. In actuality, the book contrives its own kind of trial. The defendant in the case isn't love and its heedless imperatives, but the world itself, brought up on charges of being anti-ecstasy and deaf to ''the poetry that we are all capable of writing, if we can find the goddamned courage.'' Be warned, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: this contest is rigged. — Laura Miller
This latest book in Spencer's long career is not his best. That honor still belongs to the nearly quarter-century-old Endless Love — despite its bad title and worse movie adaptation — with Waking the Dead a close second. Those books were like sustained fever dreams, nervy and hypnotic, while Spencer presents Daniel's obsessions in A Ship Made of Paper in a distinctly cooler tone, often with more telling than showing. Still, there are many compelling echoes of those earlier novels here. Few writers are more proficient with a simile (ears "as bright as freshly boiled shrimps"; eyes "as expressive as thumbtacks") or the perfect character-defining detail. And in a literary environment in which few male writers can deliver a decent sex scene, much less offer a fully fleshed romance, Spencer can do both with ease, making him both a writer's writer and a poster child for sensitive men everywhere. — Donna Rifkind
At bottom, A Ship Made of Paper is a John Updike book: a story of adultery among affluent East Coast people who may be lustful and selfish but are too civilized to do grievous harm. In fact, Spencer's prose tends to imitate Updike's — the local detail, the wit and irony, and the leisurely pace (which, without Updike's lyrical gift, often seems downright slow). But Spencer's intention, it appears, was to write a Joyce Carol Oates novel instead — a novel in which things go bang, in which real disaster is possible, in which romantic passion is indistinguishable from madness. — Michael Harris
Spencer's latest novel should cement his reputation as the contemporary American master of the love story. Daniel Emerson is a New York City lawyer who has returned to his hometown of Leyden, N.Y., a picturesque Hudson Valley village, with his girlfriend Kate, a novelist, and her daughter, Ruby. Kate drinks and obsesses about the O.J. Simpson trial instead of writing fiction. Daniel finds himself falling in love with Iris Davenport, an African-American grad student at the local university. Iris is married to Hampton Welles, an investment adviser. The book records Iris and Daniel's affair from both perspectives and poses the question, is their fleeting happiness really worth so much ruin? For ruin there is a-plenty: Daniel thoroughly humiliates Kate, destroys his financial status, becomes a subject of gossip in the village and inadvertently mauls Hampton in an accident with a roman candle, making it almost impossible for Iris to leave him. Spencer is an unerring writer. He describes the two couples at a local concert: "From time to time, Kate must glance at Daniel. His eyes are closed, but she's sure he's awake. Hampton takes Iris's hand, brings it to his lips, while she stares intently ahead. And then, Kate sees Daniel glancing at Iris. Their eyes meet for a moment, but it has the impact of cymbals crashing. It is a shocking, agitating thing to see. It's like being in a store with someone and watching them steal something." Kate's violated sense of order is captured in perfectly chosen metaphors. This book, in which matters of sex and race are treated with unusual frankness, could well be both the critical and commercial surprise of this spring season. (Mar.) FYI: PW will run an interview with Spencer in March. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Daniel Paris returns to his hometown with his partner and stepdaughter to escape big-city life. Once there, he begins an affair with a married African American woman whom he meets when dropping his stepdaughter off at daycare. What starts as soulful attraction turns into sexual addiction, and Daniel throws himself into the affair while throwing away everything else in his life. The interracial aspect allows Spencer, author of seven critically acclaimed novels (e.g., Endless Love), to explore both subtle and overt forms of racism among liberals and conservatives and the heavy burden of living with a consciousness of race and the responsibility of setting an unimpeachable example. He contrasts this to the mostly unacknowledged luxury of being white and representing only oneself to society. The novel is a page-turner, with crises scattered throughout, but it is also peopled with well-developed characters who live in a carefully depicted rural college town. Exhausting in its intensity, this well-written novel is recommended for public libraries.-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs. Grinnell, IA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
From Spencer (The Rich Man’s Table, 1998, etc.), a rich and highly textured account of life, love, envy, and disappointment in a Hudson Valley town. Leyden, New York, is one of those quaint little burgs with the good fortune to have been dirt-poor for so long that no one ever bothered to put up strip malls or subdivisions nearby. Hotshot lawyer Daniel Emerson was born there, but he made his reputation and fortune in Manhattan and never intended to move backuntil he lost a case defending a black drug czar and found his life suddenly in serious danger. So he dropped out of the fast lane and settled into a sluggish small-town practice in Leyden, moving into a house with his writer girlfriend Kate Ellis and Kate’s young daughter Ruby. At Ruby’s preschool, Daniel meets Iris Davenport, a young black graduate student whose son Nelson is one of Ruby’s classmates. Iris is married to Hampton Welles, a prosperous black investment banker who spends most of his time in Manhattan. Daniel, at 36, is getting a head start on his midlife crisis, and the first symptom is Iris, with whom he becomes quickly infatuated. That Kate is an old-style southern racist (she’s now covering the O.J. Simpson case for several newspapers), and that Hampton is an insufferable prig capable of detecting racism in the way Leyden’s traffic light changes, help make an affair inevitable. And, shall we say, trouble ensues. Amid it, we also meet an insolvent patrician, his New Age wife, a blind art historian, two runaway juvenile delinquents, and a crooked copin other words, the people of your typical Hudson Valley town. What they all have to do with one another isn’t obvious at first, and it’s to the author’s creditthat he manages to connect their lives in a way that seems almost self-evident by story’s close. Subtle without being obscure, a splendidly intricate tragicomedy of manners in the tradition of Sakifull of horrible, delightful, and vivid eccentrics.
The beauty of this novel lies not only in the telling but in its commitment to the passionate life.
“A searching study of the chaotic side of love.”
“A Ship Made of Paper” rocks with suspense and daring.
“Here’s a love story that you can recommend, without blushing, to other adults.”
“Spencer is a magnificent writer.”
A Ship Made of Paper is an engagingly written, wickedly insightful, and passionate novel about desire, race, and fate.
Scott Spencer has a genius for observing dramatic everyday moments.
"A searching study of the chaotic side of love."