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Avoidance: A Novel Paperback – November 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This finely etched second novel by Lowenthal (The Same Embrace) tells the story of Jeremy Stull, a Harvard graduate student who has lived with the Amish and spends most of his time researching the lives of those excommunicated from Amish communities. During the summer, he is also the assistant director of Camp Ironwood, a haven in the Vermont woods for troubled boys. As he probes the personal lives of these two groups, Jeremy struggles with his own latent homosexuality. Nearly celibate, Jeremy has put off confronting sexual desires that make him uncomfortable, but this comes to an end with the arrival at Ironwood of Max Conner, a charismatic 14-year-old with a tragic family history. In taming the insubordinate Max, Jeremy is reminded of his own childhood, the death of his father and his history at the camp. He also sees some of his own quandaries reflected in the life of Beulah Glick, a lonely Amish woman who decided to leave the fold rather than shun her excommunicated husband. Lowenthal deftly weaves together scenes of Amish and camp life; juxtaposing these two tightly knit communities, he explores the appeal of highly structured, restrictive collectives as well as questions of temptation and self-mastery, faith and belonging. Lowenthal has a fine ear for the vernaculars of urban campers, Harvard academics and the cloistered, bilingual Amish, and he handles the potentially explosive subject of Jeremy's unrequited attraction to Max with subtlety and sensitivity. These different elements form a rich, complex narrative that is as inspiring as it is thought provoking.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Disturbed and displaced by the death of his father as a little boy, Jeremy finds his roots and, indeed, his avocation at Camp Ironwood, where he began as a camper and rose to assistant camp director. In the winter months, as a graduate student Jeremy studies the Amish people, with particular emphasis on their practice of shunning. Social avoidance and marking those who differ from what is learned may be formalized in the Amish community, but it is very similar to socialization at a boy's camp and to the larger community's reaction to homosexuality. By interweaving and comparing those three types of social avoidance, as well as studying what it means to protect kinship and fellowship, Lowenthal (The Same Embrace) shows what it means to be a fallible human. At times haunting and disturbing, his second novel teaches a quiet lesson: one person can, in fact, rein in individual desires and create a community that is stronger than the sum of its parts and thereby find personal redemption. With beautiful characterizations of the boys at Ironwood and a lyrical rendering of a man's conflicting spiritual pulls, Avoidance is not to be missed. Highly recommended. Caroline M. Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (November 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555973671
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555973674
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,490,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Since Michael Lowenthal's first book The Same Embrace was enjoyable, I assumed the same would be true for Avoidance. Warning: Fans of The Same Embrace will not find a similar work in Avoidance. People who saw great promise in the writing of The Same Embrace will see this promise being taken one step further in Avoidance. Lowenthal is a writer who challenges and respects his readers and allows the reader to draw conclusions without being judgmental.
I thought it would be a typical coming out/coming of age story. The book is anything but typical. It tells the story of Jeremy Stull, an adult who still relives the memories of summer camp-the same summer camp he attended as a child and now is a staff member as an adult. Jeremy seems to be struggling in life. Though the reader can assume that he is gay, he has had relationships with some women and a man, but the encounters are rare so he is probably best categorized as questioning. His life is challenged when he becomes infatuated with a young, troubled boy at the camp. He deeply wants to have an intimate relationship with the young man, and is jealous of the director who seems to also be interested in the boy. He has to put his feelings on hold when he learns that the camp director, a victim of sexual abuse himself, abuses the boy. Jeremy realizes just how close he came to actually committing the same crime.
The plot of the story is challenging to the reader. Homophobic people could see it as proof that gay men are attracted to young boys, but a careful reader would not come to such a conclusion. The book really deals with the complications that can arise when healthy boundaries are crossed and how at times, the consequences can be devastating for all people involved.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on August 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
I felt for Jeremy, as through expert characterization Michael Lowenthal has brought him off of the page and into reality so that you feel that he's a living person, one you know and understand. The other characters were a bit more murky. I wondered if we were ever supposed to question whether Max, the young Tadzio boy on whom poor Jeremy is so crushed out, is actually telling the truth or lying when he accuses another counselor, Jeremy's friend Charlie, of molesting him. Jeremy accepts Max's word on this awfully quick. I expected a few more Kobe Bryant-style defenses from Charlie (and from Jeremy for that matter, who accepts this shattering revelation awfully quick for such a purportedly good "friend.") But, as Lowenthal cleverly reveals, Jeremy has had a long-ago buried grudge against Charlie from the days when they were both boys. Thus the question is moot (whether Charlie is guilty or innocent) and I would just say, look, if you don't want people to think you have an unholy interest in young boys, get a job somewhere else not in a boy's camp.

At the end of the book, Jeremy is a sadder but wiser individual, implicated in the very machinations of society he had hoped to avoid. Every sentence, every paragraph of AVOIDANCE is alive with lived experience and with the joy of metaphor and seeing. Lowenthal has a poet's eye and can condense what one is seeing and feeling into a single enduring and striking image, so that at every turn we are diverted, thrilled and seduced by his language. Some readers may be put off by the ambiguity of a storyline that seems to contradict what its first person narrator seems so anxious to convey, but I applaud its daring and the courage of its author.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jose Sotolongo on January 12, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In a word: EXCELLENT.
In a few words: This is one of those rare novels in what we call the gay literature that is both a page-turner and a serious novel with serious themes. It raises a number of important questions: What is child abuse? Is consentual physicality between an adult and a minor always wrong? Are the parameters of behavior set by a society always in the best interest of the individual?
The writing is elegant, with poetic traces in the use of language. Although it is at times a bit overdramatic, Lowenthal's style is lean. His writing is direct and to the point, and always evocative of the deep feelings that the characters experience in their moral dilemmas.
This one is not for airheads at the poolside.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
There are so many pleasures to reading this book, not the least of which are the finely rendered characters, the elegant writing, and absorbing story. This is a page-turner in the best sense -- it combines fascinating subject matter with a plot that is at turns touching and suspenseful. Lowenthal's prose style is keenly observant. His ability to turn a phrase is downright enviable, but never so showy that it distracts from the story. At so many points I found myself stopping as I read to relish a descriptive passage, thinking to myself -- yes, that is just what it's like.
I myself am a gay man who acts as a mentor to skateboarder teenaged boys much like Lowenthal's 14yo "troubled youth" character, Max. In some ways I can relate to the situation that Lowenthal's main character and narrator, Jeremy, finds himself in. Troubled kids are a fascinating lot. I have found that even the most hard-boiled ones usually have a core that is affectionate and real. You just have to work hard to break through, and winning trust is everything. Young people can spot a phony a mile away. They tend to believe only what they know, so in order to reach them it is imperative that you let them know something very certain about you: that you are wise, safe, and caring. With troubled, wounded kids there is an added requirement to establish this over a long period of time, sometimes years. (As a result, it is often only the most dedicated, possibly obsessed, adults who manage to break through.) Once you've won them over, though, such kids are fiercely loyal and do their best to show love, albeit usually only in the way their teenaged-boy arsenal of words and deeds allows.
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