Grief--Andrew Holleran

I had seen Grief listed in several places as one of the novels about Washington that isn't about politics. 
And it is true--you couldn't get much more of a sense of place than this novel gives.  Not only of place but of rich and varied history and of a kind of formlessness or shapelessness that defines Washington, D.C.

Our protagonists goes to Washington after the death of his mother to escape the place where he has the most memories of her.  He rents a room in one of those elegant D.C. townhouses and sets out, with the help of his Landlord, Henry Adams, and Mary Todd Lincoln to try to come to terms with his grief and his isolation.

The writing is gorgeous, very reminiscent of the prose of Victorian writers without the excess.  Because place is so important there is much given in the way of description, but all of it is essential to the story.

What I must admit I was not at all prepared for is the "gayness" of the novel.  I knew that Holleran was a gay writer--I understood that from the beginning.  But there are things going on in the novel, subtexts and messages that I felt I probably wasn't privvy to.  I spent a lot of the time wondering if I was missing key signals because i did not have a sufficient familiarity with the contours of the gay community.

This was not a problem, for the most part, because universals--the need for affirmation, intimacy, affection, and contact--are universals.  But, all the same, I realized that in the same way as when I read a novel out of Japan or China, I am not catching all the nuance--I'm not reading the full story--I'm not enjoying, fully, its richness.  And so it will have to be, until I can understand better some of the postulates and axioms of the community.



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