The Paternity Test

The Paternity Test

by Michael Lowenthal


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Celluloid Activist is the biography of gay-rights giant Vito Russo, the man who wrote The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, commonly regarded as the foundational text of gay and lesbian film studies and one of the first to be widely read. But Russo was much more than a pioneering journalist and author. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and cofounder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Russo lived at the center of the most important gay cultural turning points in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. His life as a cultural Zelig intersects a crucial period of social change, and in some ways his story becomes the story of a developing gay revolution in America. A frequent participant at zaps and an organizer of Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) cabarets and dances which gave the New York gay and lesbian community its first social alternative to Mafia-owned bars Russo made his most enduring contribution to the GAA with his marshaling of Movie Nights, the forerunners to his worldwide Celluloid Closet lecture tours that gave gay audiences their first community forum for the dissection of gay imagery in mainstream film. Biographer Michael Schiavi unravels Vito Russo s fascinating life story, from his childhood in East Harlem to his own heartbreaking experiences with HIV/AIDS. Drawing on archival materials, unpublished letters and journals, and more than two hundred interviews, including conversations with a range of Russo s friends and family from brother Charlie Russo to comedian Lily Tomlin to pioneering activist and playwright Larry Kramer, Celluloid Activistprovides an unprecedented portrait of a man who defined gay-rights and AIDS activism.
Schiavi tells a compelling story in this biography from his re-creation of life on the streets of East Harlem and in Greenwich Village of the 1960s and 1970s to the way he conveys Russo s excitement about his film research and popular education to his account of the AIDS years in New York City. John D Emilio, Italian American Review
In Schiavi s] hands Russo s life is both fascinating in its own right and a window into a larger milieu of activism during two critical decades. Italian American ReviewBest Special Interest Books, selected by the American Association of School Librarians
Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the Public Library Reviewers
Finalist, Gay Memoir/Biography, Lambda Literary Awards
Finalist, Over the Rainbow Selection, American Library Association"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780299290009
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date: 09/27/2012
Edition description: 1
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Michael Lowenthal is author of three previous novels: The Same Embrace, Avoidance, and Charity Girl, which was a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” title, a Washington Post “Top Fiction of 2007” selection, and a Book Sense Top Twenty Pick. He is a core faculty member in Lesley University’s MFA program in creative writing. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

the paternity test

By michael lowenthal

terrace books

Copyright © 2012 Michael Lowenthal
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-299-29000-9

Chapter One

It's not too late," I said. "You could still change your mind."

"What?" said Stu. "Now?" He glanced down at his watch. "Quarter till. They might already be there."

We'd rumbled down the hill in our rust-corrupted Volvo, my parents' "summer clunker" we inherited with the cottage. Now Stu turned and steered us through the narrows of 6A: past the shuttered ice-cream stand ("C U all next season!"), the barns with empty clamshell drives and sluggish whale-shaped vanes. Weathered shingles, the gull-gray sky, the browned, static marsh—the sober shades of Cape Cod in December.

But this was what I'd longed for: a hushed and dullish outback. I hadn't set foot in New York since we'd moved.

"So call them," I said. "Say you thought of a better place. It's fine."

With one sure hand, Stu veered to dodge a road-kill squirrel; the other hand was fidgeting with his scarf. "What kind of a first impression is that?" he said. "We can't even commit to a restaurant?"

The Pancake King, where we were headed, had been his bright idea, overriding my suggestion of the Yarmouth House or one of our other surf-and-turf standbys. Someplace less expensive, he'd insisted: "Cheap enough so they'll feel at home if they're not used to fancy- or, if they are, maybe they'll think it's witty."

He'd made a decent case, but it was just conjecture. We knew so very little about Debora and Danny Neuman, certainly not enough to safely judge what they might like. And yet here we were, crossing the Cape to meet them, to see if she'd agree to have our baby. Had ever there been an odder double date?

While Stu tossed and turned about the question of where to meet, I was trying to float atop the waves of my own worry: Would Debora and her husband see the patched-up, worthy Stu and Pat? Would any of our old frayings show?

I didn't remind Stu-not in so many words-that it was he who'd pushed us toward a restaurant so silly. What I said (too carelessly) was, "Well, there's always the Yarmouth House ..."

"Perfect," he said. "I knew you'd say 'I told you so.' I knew it!" With a stagy crunch of gravel, he pulled to the shoulder and stopped. He stabbed the hazards button, got them clacking.

Stu was that incongruous thing, a Jewish airline pilot, and his manner could be just as oxymoronic. Forcefully indecisive, authoritatively whiny. With me, at least, in private, that could be his way. Strangers noted his rinsed-of-accent speech, his stringent crew cut, a gaze that seemed to own the whole horizon—the earned-in-sweat antithesis of a nebbish (a word he'd taught me). But late at night, or during sex, when Stu let down his guard, I could see his impressive eyes inch a smidgen closer, as though he wanted to stare at his own nose.

His eyes were like that now. I guessed they were, behind his Ray-Ban shades.

"Patrick," he said. "Pat, hon. Be honest. You're not nervous?"

The quaver of his humbled voice disarmed me. "Kidding?" I said. "Of course I am. I almost puked this morning."

"Okay. And Debora and Danny-you think they feel the same?"

Considering what we'd ask of them, how could they not? I nodded.

"Right," said Stu. "So, please, can't you let me feel that, too?"

The world at large got Captain Stuart Nadler, at the stick. Who did I get? Someone neurotic about his choice of lunch spots.

"Just let me spaz a little," he said. "It's nothing. It's routine turbulence. I mean, look at us. Look where we finally are!"

Where we were was a cattail-shaded stretch of silent road. Not a single car had passed since Stu had pulled us over.

I thought of an evening shortly after we had made the move, when I still worried he might quit and head back to the city; I had feared that our new life wouldn't—that I wouldn't—be enough. We went to see Shrek 2 at the theater down in Sandwich, the lobby empty except for the wizened lady who took our tickets, who offered also to make a batch of popcorn. Stu, as the trailers started, looked around and whispered, "We can't be, can we? The only people here?" He flung a kernel of popcorn at the screen. But then, after the lights went dark, seeing that we were indeed alone, he jumped up and took my hand and skipped us down the aisle, belting out the soundtrack in falsetto. Our own Kingdom of Far, Far Away!

Now, in the car, he removed his aviators. "Kiss me," he said.

There was the Stu I craved: my own top gun.

I followed his order, and tasted his familiarly foreign tongue: still, after a decade-plus, surprising in its saltiness.

"Ready?" he said, and revved the engine.

"I've been ready," I said. "You know that."

And so into the brackish Cape Cod bluster we charged, back on the road and off to the Pancake King to meet our womb.

Chapter Two

A surrogate mother, at last! A woman who could give us what we couldn't give ourselves.

I was thrilled, even if I'd hoped we'd get here sooner. How could we have wasted nine full months since we had moved?

Our first excuse for stalling—the one we'd dared to voice—had to do with all the stresses of taking over the cottage. On a ridge in West Barnstable, above the stylish dunes of Sandy Neck, the home was where we Faunces, for thirty-some years, had summered. Or, to follow Stu's edict that summer was not a verb, the cottage was my family's "summer home." (Stu had tried, less successfully, to wean me off of cottage: with four bedrooms, two baths, a two-car garage, the house would be a mansion in Manhattan.) I had stayed at the cottage every school break as a kid, and since my parents had died, had co-owned it with my sisters, but suddenly it was mine alone—actually, mine and Stu's—and suddenly, too, was meant to be the scene of our redemption.

All we'd known together was a queered-up city life: a life of sexual license, of looking the other way, our love stretched so thin it almost snapped; now we were nesting in this tranquil bayside home, having convinced each other that a baby would be the answer ...

... and every domestic mishap gave a little karmic poke: You really believe in happily ever after?

A clogged oil-burner nozzle. A leak in the chimney flashing. A bombardiering blue jay that mistook our picture window for the sky and left it smithereened with cracks.

The old poetry major in me couldn't help but see the cottage in metaphorical terms. My answer was to make of the place a bold "objective correlative": an external framework to stand in for—and influence?—our emotions. Thus came my compulsion to de-bramble ancient blueberry bushes that never, till just now, had called for rescue, and my early-morning passion for repointing decorative garden walls (the ones now made more visible by de-brambling).

In order to prove our readiness to raise a child together, I would get the place—and us—in unimpeachable shape.

Not that I minded the effort. In fact, I sort of loved it. As someone who wrote textbooks, shuffling words and phrases, getting the chance to grapple with actual objects pleased me greatly. More than that, I liked the work because it now was my work. At thirty-six, at last I had my private patch of earth.

My work, my private patch of earth. But the house was also Stu's now—or should have been, and had to be. And that required additional adjustments.

Stu insisted, rightfully, that he should make his mark upon the house, which basically hadn't been touched since Mom had died. First to go was the sign—routered driftwood dangling from rusty chains—that had touted the property, ungrammatically, as "The Faunce's." Also tossed away were some dozen wall-hung photos, depicting scenes a great deal like (or maybe they were) our deck's bay view; Mom had bought them, as if to claim her view as picturesque she needed actual pictures for comparison. In their stead, Stu put up his raft of vintage travel posters. "Come to Ulster, the Holiday Wonderland, for a Real Change and Happy Days"; "Visitez L'Afrique en Avion." He also set out keepsakes to remind him of New York: a coffee table whose surface was made of inlaid subway tokens; a sign from Yonah Schimmel's: "Eat Knishes!"

Better, then. Much better. But still, sometimes, he told me, he felt like a hermit crab in some other creature's shell. (It took all I had to keep from noting that his simile was proof of his becoming a Cape Codder.) "I watch you," he admitted, one April Sunday morning, when I was sprawled on the living room's shag carpet, doing a crossword. "The way you walk around from room to room. It's like you've got your memories, this massive net of memories, throwing it over every inch, to claim things."

True enough, and I wasn't about to block those recollections. Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't.

The answer was to work on making memories now together, to co-star in our own all-new show.

Here we are, planting a row of rhubarb in the yard, dreaming aloud about the jams and chutneys we'll cook up. In the house, we take the muslin, mollusk-patterned curtains down, replacing them with sleek bamboo shades. And, acceding to beachy norms, but also being camp, we park a homely trinket on the lawn: a whirligig whose plywood fisherman forever hooks a big one.

For my birthday Stu surprises me: a flight in a rented Skylane. We skim over glacial ponds and purple fallow cranberry bogs: a chain of gems along the Cape's thin neck. Stu says, "You know, when we first started coming here, I couldn't help but see what was missing: no decent theater or Chinese food, no oomph. But living here"—he swoops above a pond, whose surface shivers—"now I can see what I was missing."

Next we're at the Cape Cod Mall, a nor'easter banging away outside, the halls packed with prepubescent girls. Mrs. Rita, the fuchsia-nailed proprietress of Mrs. Rita's Rice, bodily—almost violently—accosts us. "Write your name on a piece of rice," she importunes redundantly (the awning above her booth bears this slogan). She offers me a magnifying glass to glimpse some samples. World's Best Dad. Class of 2004. Your Name Here. I muse about how long this place would last in New York: not long. "My specialty is guessing who people are to each other," she says. "You two guys—a couple, right? I think that's just fantastic. Anyone tells you otherwise, then screw'em! Newlyweds, I'm willing to bet: the both of you've got that glow. How about two grains that say 'Till Death,' one for each? Put them in glass beads, on a necklace?" Stu looks at me. What would be the point in disabusing her? She has stretched a hand across the great divide of strangerdom; better to endorse her endorsement. "Sold," he says, and asks her to engrave the matching grains, but the glass beads? Thanks, we'll take a pass. "Really? Just the rice?" she says. "Aren't you going to lose them?" But here she goes, doing her nifty Lilliputian trick, as solemn as a sapper with a bomb. A minute later, finishing up the grains, she gives it one more try: "Can't just hand them off like this—naked! Are you serious? Okay, then, you're well and warned. The customer's always right ..." We thank her, and pay, and deep-kiss right in front of her: let her take some credit for our romance. And then, when she lunges for the next passing couple (sixty-somethings in matching madras slickers), we turn and, with laughter in our eyes, without the need to ask, count to three: the grains go down the hatch.

But even on the best of days, our happiness felt fragile. Every forward step, if set down wrong, could remind me of the hurt Stu'd caused, could flare that sprain again.

The day we gobbled Pita's rice, we went next to Filene's. I'd seen their ad in the Cape Cod Times: boxer shorts, all brands, two for one. I picked up some jockey packs, but Stu splurged on Calvins. "That way," he said, "simpler to tell, in the laundry, whose are whose."

"Yuh," I said, "as if you do the laundry."

He pinched my butt. "Just watching out for you, my love. As always."

After we'd paid, and browsed the bedding aisles for duvet covers (Stu was still chipping away at my mother's old decor), I had a thought: "Hey, let's look in Baby."

"Now?" he said, and then, "Why not? The power of positive thinking."

Even during these early days, adjusting to our new life—assuring each other, "Once the house is dealt with ..."—I'd been getting ready for a baby. I read Dan Savage's book The Kid, and pored through old issues of Gay Parent. I boned up on breast-milk facts, theories of early learning. Cloth or plastic? I could have penned a tome.

But still, almost three months gone, we had yet to even start to try to find a surrogate.

I tried to push Stu along, but never to push too much. He would be ready when he was ready, and not a second sooner. (I'd asked my buddy Marcie, once, how she'd known she was ready to be a mom. "Pat," she said, "if we waited till we were ready for having kids, there'd never be another baby born.")

"Ooh, look at this," I said now, holding up a onesie, blue-striped like a French sailor's shirt.

"Huh," said Stu. He shrugged.

"All right, how 'bout this?" The second one was brown, and showed a tiny trumpet, below which were the words: Little Tooter.

Stu ran the fabric hypercritically through his fingers, a spoof of a Jewish garment broker. "Feb," he said. "Not that junk. For our kid? Only silk!"

I wanted to be cross with him, for being so blithely pie-in-the-sky. But then, without his humor, we never would have gotten this far. And what was having kids about if not pipe-dream ambitions?

I'd moved on to baby shoes. How cute! Mini One Stars! "But Christ," I said. "Twenty-five bucks? For shoes that'll fit how long?"

Stu didn't answer. He stared at something—or nothing—in the distance. "Hey, just thought of a thing I need at CVS," he said. "Meet you in ten, out front? At the car?"

Why not ask me to come along? An innocent reason, surely. What nefarious business could be waiting at the drugstore? Maybe he thought I wanted to stay, that I wasn't finished browsing.

I almost said, "I'll just come with," but couldn't find the air, couldn't risk the cold and stifled Stu I might then see. The old feelings of shame and abandonment knocked me windless—just like when we'd partied at the Roxy, one last time.

That had been back in New York. A foolish final try to deal with Stu's immoderation.

I was not supposed to mind his sleeping with other men: Article i of the Gay Constitution. And truthfully, I'd always known, with Stu, what I was in for. After all, a pilot? Wasn't that half the draw? The glamour of the uniform, the randy Right Stuff strut. Sure enough, in his line of work, he'd gathered a pile of playmates. Shane in Miami; Owen in L.A.; a bunch more whose names I'd blocked out.

"You let him?" asked my editor, Steve, when I'd confessed this once. "Jesus Christ, if my wife ever caught me ..."

Well, it wasn't like I hadn't had my own digressions, but Steve's amazement kept me from imparting this admission. (Educraft, the firm where we worked, produced texts for school kids, to prep them for state assessment tests. Because the books were sold in states like Georgia and Missouri, the office, despite its address, was more Mayberry than Gotham.)

I had lived so long within our orthodoxy of excess, I could forget how odd our customs must have seemed to Steve. For him and his faithful wife, sex was the wedding china: a spotless thing, saved for Sunday dinners. For us (so went the party line), the etiquette was less strict. Sure, we had the nice plates, the ones we used at home, but if sometimes, out of the house, we grabbed a snack on paper napkins, what earth-shaking calamity was that?

Actually, for me and Stu, it hadn't been calamitous. Not at first, especially not when we had strayed together.

We'd met in the early'9os, when AIDS was all we saw. Then came the new drugs, which nearly stopped the dying, and we were freed to take another sort of drugs, the fun ones. Weekends, we would pack the dance floors, licking strangers' lips, as if to spread our own subversive joyful epidemic. Stu or I would pick a guy, or two, or they'd choose us. Once, amid the dancing throng, Stu had nuzzled my armpit; a big-eyed boy observed and stepped right up: "I'm gonna love you." He did, right there in the strobe lights, on his knees, and then moved on.

It wasn't always easy, in that rush of restitution, to keep sight of each other, and of us. We'd do this thing on the dance floor sometimes, locking mouths and breathing as a unit: I'd take air in through my nose and blow it from my mouth to his; he would gulp, then puff the exhalation back through mine. A Mobius strip of breath. A promise, a profession: I'm your lungs, your heart; I'm your life.


Excerpted from the paternity test by michael lowenthal Copyright © 2012 by Michael Lowenthal . Excerpted by permission of terrace books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Paternity Test 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bookworm_Babblings More than 1 year ago
I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This was a very unusual novel for me, but rather interesting. In a way, I wondered if Pat was actually bisexual but chose a life with Stu. The things Pat had put up with for years from Stu was just unreal. Then they try to start over in Cape Cod, you can’t get more opposite of the big city than that. I think the desire for a child was more Pat’s need to be a daddy. You can see it in the relationship he has with Paula. The feeling I got was that Stu was only interested in passing down the family genes, not much more. Although, I don’t think that qualified Pat to do what he did, not only affecting his relationship with Stu, but also Danny and Debora’s. The end of the book just completely broke my heart, I felt so awful for everyone involved. This was definitely an emotional novel and one I enjoyed very much.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
Pat and Stu, a gay couple, decide they want a baby to complete their family. Their relationship is in a rough spot right now and are hoping a baby will make their bond stronger. With Stu flying across the country as a pilot and having hook-ups in each city he visits and Pat being faithful. Yes, they have an open relationship. It is easy to understand why they are having problems. But is a baby the answer? As I started reading the Paternity Test, I thought wow this is pretty straight forward. Two men want a baby to complete their family and have found the perfect surrogate to help them reach their goal. Each month they go to the surrogates’ home and wait for her to be inseminated and then go home and wait for the call. Always hoping for the best. I thought there has to be little bumps in the road, things can’t go perfectly. Never did I imagine the issues Pat and Stu would face. Michael Lowenthal pulls you in and makes you feel as if you are part of the story. He writes the past and the future intertwining them perfectly. The story flows easy and is easy to follow. Even, if like me, you had no real knowledge or interest in the topic. I was concerned at the relationship between Pat and the surrogate. It seemed odd how close they became. Especially since Stu is the donor father to their baby to be. It was very interesting to read how their closeness caused the other relationships to be or to be changed. The Paternity Test shows how difficult it can be to become a parent in any circumstance. It is truly thought provoking and very unique in the story line and characters. I enjoyed the book very much and highly recommend it.
Lilac_Wolf More than 1 year ago
This book is full of flavor. You feel their excitement at having a baby, but as you get in deeper and understand the relationship these men have...well, it's less black and white. I thought it was a brilliant portrayal about how our motivations aren't always so simple. In the opening of the description it talks about the cliche, "having a baby to save the marriage." And that is what all their friends think is going on. And really, it kind of is. For one of them. For the other, it's about giving his parents a grandchild and continuing the family line. Are either of those perfect reasons for having a baby? What motivates straight couples to breed? I see lots of accidents (Ivan is one of them - lol), just because it's the normal next step, and even today there are lots of save-the-relationship babies. Just because they are a gay couple doesn't mean they don't face the same hardships in deciding to have children. This story does a great job showing the grey areas in relationships. And I wonder how much of it is true, in the gay community there is a LOT of casual sex still going on. That is what made Pat and Stu so rocky. For Stu's credit, he does make an effort to stay true to Pat once it comes out that Pat simply can't take that lifestyle anymore. It's a huge trust issue that comes back over and over again. This is a very realistic and heart-wrenching story that will surprise you in the end.
MaryAnn_Koopmann More than 1 year ago
Michael Lewenthal's novel, "The Paternity Test" is based upon a gay male couple who want their own child to complete their family. In the process of making that happen, protagonist Pat, a free lance writer, and his partner, Stu, an airline pilot, set out to explore the legal and community ways that Stu can contribute the semen to a surrogate mom. With that, we learn about the complicated and varying methods, good and bad, that such can be accomplished and the financial and legal pitfalls to having a baby under their circumstances. Additional complications involve the two men's families and their critical views of the procedure. At last, the two men find a willing surrogate family, a man and wife with whom they bond to begin. Because the semen is not to be implanted in a hospital setting, this becomes a problem as the four must meet together at the surrogate's house for the monthly inseminations. Afterwards, she calls them to inform them of the results. "The Paternity Test" is a wondrous book, far more than what we learn about the subject of insemination. It is author Lowenthal's skill with language that makes this book happen. His choice of first person as the media could not have been better for the intimacy of the six major characters, the male couple, the surrogate and her husband, as well as Stu's family each of whom present different attitudes and personal attributes that keep the tension as taut as a runaway racehorse. WARNING: if you're not careful, while in thrall to "The Paternity Test," you'll miss your stop on the bus and be late for work . In addition to point of view, not enough can be said about this amazing writer's use of dialogue, his word choices. Each sentence snaps like a ping pong ball, volley and serve, perfectly delivered and received. Author Lowenthal's profound understanding of the human heart is also gripping, grabbing readers on the first page and holding them until the end. What's more, this author takes you deep inside the characters, and when you've finished you've literally lived this story through the eyes of Lowenthal's people. This book is not fluff, not a book you'll soon forget. Make that experience your own. Make it the next book on your nightstand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This hasn't been shipped yet. How am I supposed to write a review?
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A book that was definitely out of my normal reads, but I was more than excited to read it because of the central subject matter.  A gay couple - Pat and Stu are hoping to start a family and look into using a surrogate - but they have quite the list of requirements.  Through fate and a website they find the perfect woman to help them make their dreams come true, but it isn't the easiest journey to parenthood.