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on August 24, 2001
Dear Andrew Solomon, This is a fan letter: PLEASE keep writing such beautiful fiction. PLEASE write another novel as soon as possible. I have never come across Solomon's prose in "The New Yorker" and have not read his two non-fiction books, one about artists in the Soviet Union and one about Depression. A STONE BOAT is his first novel. It was a birthday gift to me and I read it in three days. I then waited one day and read it all over again. It is one of the most elegantly written novels I've ever read: Solomon chooses words as if they were precious jewels and then sets them perfectly. And yet, the reader is never conscious of the author, as Armistead Maupin says, "using a ten dollar word when a ten cent word will do." A STONE BOAT tells of a gifted classical pianist, Harry, at the beginning of what will no doubt be a major career. An American living in London, Harry joins his privileged family for what is supposed to be a joyous holiday in France. But it is here that they learn that Harry's mother has cancer. This tragedy is the centerpiece of the narrative, but it is the lives that touch Harry's and his mother's that make the book even more fascinating and complex, funny, charming and, above all, achingly beautiful. The novel is not packed with scores of characters. Rather it is an intimate story of a family and the few who are their satellites: from Harry's good-hearted, passive, British male lover to his wise and strong American girlfriend, from his unforgiving, tough-minded agent to his hedonistic sex partner, Nick. It is, in the end, a story of life conquering death, of a family bonding at first to refuse Death admittance to their home and then, finally, conspiring to help one of their own die, in her own way and time by her own hand with dignity and grace. This is a once-in-a-lifetime read: a novel to cherish. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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on March 4, 1998
Andrew Solomon's "A Stone Boat" is a remarkable first novel. The author's mastery of the English language and the way he uses it to create senses of setting and character are incredible. There is much to admire, too, in Mr. Solomon's way with a story. His characters are real as are their relationships. Harry, the main charactor/narrator, describes his mother upon first sight in the most extraordinary way - close your eyes and you see her sitting across the room. This passage is one to read and re-read all the while savoring the beauty of the language and the sheer descriptive powers of the author. Do not lend this book to your friends or you will never see it again - the prose is that remarkable. One hopes Mr. Solomon is working on his second, third and fourth books as this review is being written.
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on April 15, 2014
I don't read a great deal of fiction, but when I do, I want a book to hook me right away and keep me turning pages until I am finished, and then have me regret that the story is over. One such book was Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. This is another one.

Andrew Solomon writes some of the best prose I have ever read. And in doing so, he conveys the psychological struggles of his main character in a very compelling way. Doubtless the book is at least partially autobiographical, which reveals his intensely deep struggle with his homosexuality and the impending loss of his mother, who is dying of cancer. The book also offers Solomon's insight as a psychologist into the nuances of human behavior and emotion. For example, he shows the difference between sympathy and empathy, which are often confused as being the same. Harry breaks off his relationship with his lover in England because his lover had sympathy for what Harry was experiencing, but no empathy.

The book is not for everyone, I'm sure. It's not a highly charged adventure novel full of blood, guts, and sex. But it is a wonderful exposition that makes you think about the human condition and the struggles we all go through with some aspect of ourselves that we feel are condemned by society, and the losses of loved ones that we must inevitably experience.
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on May 18, 1999
This is a very touching and wonderfully written novel. Every scene in it has the feel of authenticity. Highly recommended for readers willing to let themselves be moved emotionally by powerful prose.
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on July 26, 2013
Andrew Solomon is a terrific writer and infuses his story with so many insights into human relationships and the trials and tribulations of growing up, experiencing loss, and holding on to the things that matter. Personally, I just love his way with words and I read this book two times, back to back.. with plans to read it again. There's a lot to be learned in this treasure of a story with amazing characters all on their own journeys and crossing each other's paths... It was written long ago but is as relevant as ever, an excellent read.
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on July 25, 2013
Andrew Solomon, A Stone Boat

`A portrait of a rich, effete sissy-boy.' That was my verdict on The Stone Boat when it first appeared two decades ago. A second reading over four weeks this summer revealed the book as a worthy contribution to the Agony Memoir category of fiction. Solomon, who speaks here through the mask of a young talented pianist called Harry, has an obsessively introverted mother fixation. He is, to say the least, a self-pitying egotist whose world centres on his family. The book is, as Solomon says in his Acknowledgements, `above all a novel about love.' Indeed, the word `love' is threaded through every page, appearing no less than fourteen times on one.

The book is less novel than confession, and I wonder if it was the author's need to mask the `facts' that resulted in his choice of category. Certainly, as a `gay' novel it is not disgraced by a comparison with works by Gilbert Adair and Alan Hollinghurst, although here the character of Harry is conflated with that of his author.

The story deals with the traumas suffered by Harry and his family when the mother `regal as the Queen of Sheba' is diagnosed with cancer. Harry, jet-setting between concerts in England and America, seeks consolation in the arms and beds of various men - as well as family friend Helen in New York. The male lovers seem somewhat lay figures (pun intentional) being either macho types or sympathetic guys who can't stay long. Helen is always waiting in the wings with much sensible advice, forever offering a shoulder to cry on. Harry is as much torn apart by terror and grief as his mother is by her recurrent tumours and chemotherapy. The mother's brave but slow decline and Harry's reaction to the inevitable provides the tension: how and when will she die and how will he survive her loss?

The fact that this is more confession than novel is underlined by Solomon's occasional addresses to the reader; thus `In real life, people do not have deathbed scenes. Deathbed scenes are a matter for grand opera, and you will perhaps recall that my mother hated grand opera.' The narrator frequently confides his opinions and complaints to the reader: `That you cannot be monogamous and encompass both genders - this is one of life's gross cruelties.' Solemn, serious and self-wrapped, Harry (aka/Solomon - how appropriate except for the wisdom part, the name!) can become at times unintentionally funny. Thus he confesses, Woody Allen like, that he has been `practising all his life' for love.

All in all, then, although gripping and enjoyable, this is a pathological confession rather than a novel. Solomon's later work, all enthusiastically received, is sensibly in the realm of non-fiction.
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on October 21, 2004
At first I was somehow a bit afraid to read this book, a novel about your dying mother. But I said to myself, come on and face it, its a part of growing up. So I started reading and got aquainted with this New York based cosmopolitan family. I think the first person narrator, a young and promising pianist, was not intriguing. This was kind of odd to me as I expected him to puzzle me. However, the very minute his mother begins to speak you know she is the one who carries the power in this book. Few books have presented such a strong mother figure as here allthough she stays at the background. Mother is very stylish, beautiful, educated and verbally gifted. She can turn anyting into a succes by knowing what to say, what to wear, which flowers to use, what kind of music to play, where to socialize, you name it and she is the star of the evening. She reminded me on Jackie Kennedy. While the son is searching for a relationship and a place to live, mother is actually ready with her life and saying goodbye to it all because she suffers from cancer. As her body is fainting, her mind stays sharp as a knife untill the very last minutes when she gives a shivering speach. Before this happens, mother disapproves her sons' gay lifestyle which becomes the centre of the struggle between them. The young man almost gives up reaching his mother. The fighting with her harms him and there seems no solution...
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on February 16, 2014
I'm only at the halfway point in this book. It's a very tender musing by an articulate, sophisticated, and immature young man......dealing with a life for which he was unprepared.
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on February 28, 2015
A well written, thought provoking novel, but a bit sad. It had a couple themes running through it all clustered around the narrator. Got a little long and dry.
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on December 30, 2012
Interesting read and perhaps the reason to write Far From the Tree. A beautiful book.

The day after my mother died
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