The Weekendby Peter Cameron
On a midsummer weekend, in a country house in upstate New York, three friends, Lyle, Marian, and John, gather on the anniversary of the death of John's brother, who was also Lyle's lover. As Tony's absence haunts each of them in different ways, the reunion is complicated by the presence of Lyle's new lover, a much younger man named Robert, and a faux-Italian dinner
On a midsummer weekend, in a country house in upstate New York, three friends, Lyle, Marian, and John, gather on the anniversary of the death of John's brother, who was also Lyle's lover. As Tony's absence haunts each of them in different ways, the reunion is complicated by the presence of Lyle's new lover, a much younger man named Robert, and a faux-Italian dinner guest with a penchant for truth telling. As the seemingly idyllic weekend proceeds, each character is stripped bare, and old memories and new desires create a chemistry that will transform them all.
“Full of observations that ring like porch chimes and flicker like fireflies, evanescent yet indelible” The New Yorker
“A tale of love, mourning, emotional risk-taking and off-center lives . . . It hovers in a corner of your memory for a long, long time.” Margaria Fichtner, The Miami Herald
“A fascinating literary page-turner . . . We close the novel not only knowing each complicated 'prickly' character better, but also more aware and appreciative of the intricate sculpture that underlies all human social arrangements.” Michael Dorris, Los Angeles Times
“Echoes Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose brilliant narrative critiques of material culture open, again and again, to the metaphysical.” Joyce Reiser Kornblatt, The New York Times Book Review
“A novel so moving that, on finishing it, we are convinced that something of importance has taken place. We feel deeply moved, and bereft.” Francine Prose, The Yale Review
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By Peter Cameron
PicadorCopyright © 1994 Peter Cameron
All rights reserved.
FOR A FEW MINUTES after the sun rose the world was quiet and still and everything human seemed far away, as if the tide had gone out. Marian would leave John and Roland sleeping in the house and walk down the damp green lawn toward the river, barefoot, in her nightgown.
She could not say that the river was loveliest in the morning because on those still evenings when it turned purple, almost seemed to stop flowing, and lay like a bruise at the end of the lawn, it could make her cry. But in the morning there was nothing emotional about it. It was deep and cold and purposeful, clearer and curative. She'd walk upstream a ways to a secluded spot where some trees had fallen, creating a still pool with a sandy bottom. She waded for a moment, and then slipped into the water and swam quietly, almost surreptitiously, hardly moving the water, allowing it to move her. Then she lay for a while on the dock, feeling the chill of the river passing beneath her and the not-quite-warmth of the early sun rising above, and herself, her body, in between, solid and clean, alive.
At some point she would sense that John or Roland had awoken — it was just a feeling that the house was no longer asleep. She'd stand and begin to walk up toward it. She felt a happiness rise in her as she mounted the lawn. Her house and her garden and the river — they gave her such pleasure; it was all so beautiful, every stone and window and leaf.
Her delight was so keen it almost hurt.CHAPTER 2
ROBERT WAS LATE AND for a few minutes Lyle feared that he had changed his mind and wasn't coming. This made absolute sense to Lyle: it had been absurd to think, he thought, that Robert would come. In fact, I am relieved, he managed to convince himself. But then he caught sight of Robert hurrying across the thronged plaza of Grand Central, a glimpse before he disappeared, only to reappear closer, and every time Robert reappeared, closer and larger, Lyle's doubt diminished, until Robert was there, standing beside him, grinning and panting, and Lyle's doubt was gone.
The train was crowded, and they were unable to get adjoining seats. The crowd bothered Lyle, who liked to think that when he was escaping from the city he was doing it alone; to be accompanied by a trainload of brightly dressed people clutching shopping bags stuffed with wine and baguettes spoiled his pleasure. From where he sat on the aisle, next to a woman wearing a delft-print sundress, he could see the back of Robert's head, three rows forward. Lyle was a little jealous because Robert was sitting next to a handsome young man wearing hiking boots and shorts. They would talk and flirt and fall in love, Lyle feared, but as far as he could tell, they had not yet spoken a word to each other.
Lyle had brought the newspaper with him, but he felt too distracted to read it. He looked past the delft woman — she was reading Elle — out the window at the river, flowing in the opposite direction of the train. It wasn't at all how he had pictured the ride. He had foolishly thought that the train would be empty, just Robert and him sitting next to — or opposite perhaps, facing — each other, talking quietly as the river flowed past and the train sped forward. Lyle had wanted to use the journey to prepare Robert, to tell him about his friends, John and Marian, at whose house they were spending the weekend. And to tell Robert a little about Tony, too, for there was no way to talk about John and Marian and not talk about Tony. It was all connected. Or it had all been connected.
Two men sitting opposite Lyle got off at Croton. He threw his bags over onto the empty seats and walked up the aisle to fetch Robert. As he approached he saw that Robert was talking animatedly to the hiker, and he was struck again by Robert's youth and beauty. Does he look like that when he talks to me? Lyle wondered. He lost his nerve, and instead of asking Robert to join him on the seats he had staked, he said, "I'm going to the café car. Can I get anything for anyone? A coffee?"
"I'd like coffee," said Robert.
"What about you?" Lyle asked the hiker, as if they were all friends. "Can I get you a coffee?"
"No thanks," the man said.
Lyle squeezed Robert's arm, briefly, possessively, and then continued up the aisle. The ripe, warm feeling of Robert's flesh lingered, as if it were a fruit Lyle still palmed. When he returned a few minutes later, Robert was reading a magazine, and the hiker was looking out the window.
"There are two seats free back there," Lyle said. "Come sit with me."
"O.K.," said Robert. He stood up and gathered his bags. "Take care," he said to the hiker, who smiled and nodded.
The delft woman lowered her magazine and watched them settle into their new seats. People never want to be sat next to, Lyle thought, yet they are always offended when you desert them.
Lyle handed Robert a coffee from the cardboard raft, which also contained a Danish pastry smothered in plastic wrap. "I got that for you," said Lyle. "I didn't know if you'd had breakfast."
"Yes," said Robert, "but thanks."
"What were you talking about?" asked Lyle.
"With the hiker? The guy you were sitting next to."
"Oh. He asked me where I get my hair cut. And then he told me he was going hiking at Monadnock."
"Why did he ask you where you get your hair cut?"
"I don't know. I guess he liked it. He needed a haircut. His girlfriend used to cut his but they broke up."
"Where do you get your hair cut?"
"Nowhere particular. Just from different people. A woman at Skowhegan gave me this one." Robert shook his head a little to show it off. He had beautiful hair: long and very black, cut with an almost excruciating bluntness. It seemed to be the one feature of his beauty about which he was aware, and perhaps a little vain. Robert sipped his coffee and then said, "How much longer?"
"Till we get there? A while yet. At least an hour," said Lyle.
"I'm nervous," said Robert.
"Why?" asked Lyle.
"I don't know. I'm always nervous about meeting new people. Tell me about them."
A delicious sort of shiver ran through Lyle. What I wanted to happen is happening, he thought. For a moment he felt the rest of his life unfurling like that, ordained and golden, as effortless as falling, but the sense of falling reawakened the terror with which he normally regarded the future.
Robert was unswaddling the Danish. Lyle waited until he had taken a bite of it. "John and Marian are the nicest people I know," he began. "They are my best friends. Marian, especially."
"How long have you known them?"
"John and I were roommates at college. And Marian I met in graduate school. So a very long time. About twenty years."
"Did you introduce them to each other?"
"Yes," said Lyle. "I suppose I did. In a roundabout way."
"How romantic," said Robert. "Do you want a bite?" He offered the Danish.
"O.K.," said Lyle. His appetite was not for the pastry; it was for the act of sharing it. He leaned forward and took a bite. "It's awful," he said.
"Yes," said Robert. He put the pastry down. "What do they do?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean John and Maryanne. Do they have jobs?"
"It's Marian," said Lyle. "M, A, R, I, A, N. Marian."
"Oh," said Robert.
"It's just that she hates it when people call her Maryanne," said Lyle.
"I'll make sure to call her Marian," said Robert. "What do they do?"
"Well, nothing, really. John worked for American Express, but he quit last year. And Marian used to restore paintings but she hasn't worked much recently, since they moved upstate. Neither of them has to work. John is very wealthy. Both of his parents were extremely rich."
"So what do they do all day?"
"They do — things. John has a huge garden, and Marian ... Well, they live a life of leisure, to be perfectly honest, but they do it very well. You'll see. They're not aimless. And of course there's Roland, now, to look after."
"Roland is a child?"
"Yes," said Lyle. "What else would he be?"
"I don't know," said Robert. "A pony, or a spiritual advisor."
Lyle laughed, but a little disapprovingly, for one did not joke about Roland. "No," he said. "Roland is a child. He's my godson."
"How old is he?"
"He was born last summer." Just after Tony died, Lyle thought. Tony's death and Roland's almost simultaneous birth unnerved him a little. It linked them in a way that he knew was nonsensical but nonetheless made him feel, if he allowed himself, uncomfortable. "Roland's just about a year. I've brought him some paints."
"Do you see them often?"
Lyle paused a moment. "I used to come up every weekend, almost, with Tony. But I haven't been up at all this summer. This is the first time."
"Why?" asked Robert.
"Oh, I've been busy," said Lyle. "I was at Skowhegan, for instance."
"That was only for two days."
"Yes," said Lyle. "But I haven't really felt like it this summer. I've been content to stay in the city. Actually, you were the catalyst. I was thinking of not going."
"Oh, inertia, mostly. And I didn't think I would have much fun going by myself. Or be much fun, for that matter."
"And what difference do I make?"
Lyle looked at Robert. His face was set, on the brink of something, waiting.
"You've made a big difference," said Lyle. He tried to choose his words carefully. He wanted to be accurate, and honest. "Ever since I met you I've felt much less dreary. I know I was depressed and I suppose I still am, but the difference is that — well, now I see an end to it. Or a respite, at least. It's different from before. It frightens me, a little, actually."
"Why?" asked Robert.
"Because ..." Lyle paused. "My life — when you've been alone in your life in the way I've been alone, you may be sad, and you may be lonely, but you have control of your life, because you have complete possession of it. And then when you meet someone — when something like this happens — you feel, one feels — I feel — I feel that control vanishing. And that frightens me."
"You could change your mind," said Robert. He was looking out the window.
"About what?" asked Lyle.
"About this, our coming here, together." He turned to face Lyle. "I mean, I'd understand if you did. I could just take a train back to the city."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Lyle. "Why would I change my mind?"
"I don't know," said Robert. "I just wanted to let you know that if you did, it would be O.K."
"No, it wouldn't," said Lyle.
"Do Marian and John know I'm coming?"
"Of course they know you're coming."
"And they don't think it's strange?"
"Of course not," Lyle said. "They're eager to see me, and they seemed very happy that I was bringing someone along. It means they have to entertain me less. It will be your job, you see, to keep me entertained." Lyle picked up Robert's hand, and examined it as an excuse for holding it. "You have very elegant fingers," he said. "Do you play the piano?"
"No," said Robert.
"Well, you have the fingers of a pianist," said Lyle. He kissed them.
Robert bit his lip to stop his smile, and turned his face a little, toward the window, but Lyle could see the skin on his cheek tremble and flush. He turned to Lyle and said, "And what about Tony? Did they like Tony?"
"Of course they did," said Lyle. He heard the terseness in his voice, and added, "John and Tony were half brothers."
Robert turned away from the window. "Half brothers?" he asked. "What do you mean?"
"They had the same mother. John's parents divorced, and John's mother moved to Italy. Tony was born there. It's less complicated than it sounds. Or perhaps it's not."
"How did you meet him?"
"Tony? I'd always heard about him from John, of course. And then Tony moved to New York after his mother died. I was up at John and Marian's one weekend and so was Tony. And that was that."
"When was that?"
"Oh," said Lyle — as if he were trying to remember some vague date in his life, not a turning point — "about ten years ago."
"So you were with Tony for ten years?"
"Nine," said Lyle. "He died last summer." Lyle paused. "He died up here, at John and Marian's." He nodded his head, once, in the direction that the train was traveling.
Robert did not reply.
"I'm sorry," said Lyle. "I shouldn't have said that."
"Of course you should," said Robert. "I want to know."
"Well," said Lyle, "it would be unfair, I think, if I didn't let you know what ... the situation is."
"What else should I know?" Robert asked.
Lyle looked at him. "Oh," he said. "Lots and lots, probably. But most of it you know. The essentials, at least."
"Is it awkward, do you think, my coming with you this weekend?"
"No," said Lyle. "I'm very glad you're coming. I told you, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be coming."
"I meant with John and Marian."
"I think they'll be very happy to see me with someone again. I'm sure they will."
"But this must be hard for you," Robert said.
"In a way. But in a way I'm very happy to be coming. It's one of my favorite places on earth. And I don't want that to change. Ever. And I'm happy to be with you. I mean that." He wanted to reach out and touch Robert again, stroke the polished taut skin of his upper arm. But it was too self-conscious a gesture for Lyle to make, too deliberate, and expected. It was like a stage direction in a play: (Touches Robert's arm).
"What are they like?" asked Robert.
"Who?" asked Lyle, who had been staring intently at Robert's biceps.
"John and Marian. Their personalities."
"Well. Some people think John's rude or terribly shy, but he's not. Do you know how some people's personalities are larger than they are? Well, John's just the opposite. He doesn't quite extend all the way to the edges of himself. It takes patience and time to get to know him, but it's worth the effort. He's one of the most instinctively nice people I know. He's calm and decent and kind. He reminds me of you a little. I think you'll like him very much."
"And what about Marian?"
Lyle thought about mentioning Marian's skirmishes with depression, but he thought, no: that would be unfair. Marian, who had wandered some years ago into a dark valley and twice attempted to take her life, was better now. She said so herself. So Lyle decided to describe the Marian he hoped that they would find. "Marian is a wonderful person. She's funny, and charming, and smart. She's interested and interesting. And she's a true friend, a loyal friend."
The train was pulling into a station. The delft lady stood up and was trying to retrieve a carpetbag that was squashed into the overhead rack. Lyle got up and helped her. "Thank you," she said. She collected the rest of her bags and walked toward the front of the car. The train stopped.
"This isn't us, is it?" Robert asked.
"No," said Lyle. Out on the platform people greeted each other, embracing and laughing. It was a lovely day in the hot still center of summer. The delft woman put on a blue straw hat and sunglasses. She stood on the platform, her bags clustered about her feet, waiting. She extended her bare arms to either side of her, raised toward the sun, as if to warm them, or give a benediction. The train pulled away.
"They sound very nice," said Robert, "John and Marian. You're lucky to have such good friends."
"I know I am," said Lyle. "I would be lost without them."CHAPTER 3
LYLE'S MOST RECENT BOOK, Neo This, Neo That: The Rise and Fall of Contemporary Painting, had become, to his surprise, a big success. He had been invited to lecture to emerging artists at Skowhegan, an artists' colony in Maine: two days, two lectures, two critiques. After his first lecture, wherein he basically said that to paint without acknowledging that painting was a moribund art form was to deceive oneself, and art produced in self-deception was pointless, he was led through the painting barns and sheds, where the young artists stood about like cows, staring at him, daring him to speak. He began to think he might be murdered while he was there. His lecture the second day was to have been a continuation of the first: a sort of highlights of recent self-deceptive and indulgent painting. But only one person showed up the next morning: the young man who was scheduled to drive him to the airport at the lecture's conclusion. He was being boycotted. This fact seemed not to bother the people in charge; they thought his presence there had been a good catalyst for discussion. So Lyle got in the car with the driver, who was named Robert, and they drove an hour through the gloomy wilds of Maine in silence. Lyle was hovering on the border of sleep when the driver spoke.
Excerpted from The Weekend by Peter Cameron. Copyright © 1994 Peter Cameron. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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Meet the Author
Peter Cameron is the author of several novels, including Andorra and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. He lives in New York City.
Peter Cameron is the author of Andorra (FSG, 1997), The City of Your Final Destination (FSG, 2002), and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (FSG, 2007). His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Grand Street, and The Paris Review. He lives in New York City.
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A wonderfully told tale of love, lust, history and friends.....quickly moving and well worth the read