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Sylvia: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – May 29, 2007

12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Leonard Michaels (1933-2003) was the author of Going Places, I Would Have Saved Them If I Could, and The Men's Club, among other books. FSG will publish his Collected Stories in June to coincide with the reissue of Sylvia.

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Product Details

  • Series: FSG Classics
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374271070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374271077
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Howard Goldowsky on June 25, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like another reviewer, I learned about Leonard Michaels just a few weeks ago from the NY Times review of his collected stories. The review piqued my interest; I read the editor's note in the bookstore, which said Michaels would incessantly edit his work for lyrical quality. That's when I knew this was my guy. Constantly searching the plethora of writing available for writers I can learn from, who care about the rhythm of the sounds of their words on the page, I was pleasantly surprised to find the full oeuvre of Leonard Michaels republished and ready for consumption. SYLVIA seemed like a good place to start. It was short; it was venerated. I finished the book in a few days.

SYLVIA is about the relationship between the narrator and Sylvia, a young college girl the narrator meets in NYC, a few months after he drops out of a literature graduate program. The writing is a fictional memoir, and the narrator's background excuses him for the magic in his prose. For example, a simple look out of his Manhattan apartment window produces writing like this: "Trucks, cars, and trains flashed through the grid of cables, crossing the East River to and from Brooklyn. Freighters progressed slowly, as if in a dream, to and from the ocean. In the sky, squadrons of pigeons made grand loops, and soaring gulls made line drawings...All day and night, from every direction, came the hum of the tremendum."

The narrator turns out to have certain mild psychiatric issues; his new lover has major issues never diagnosed. The combined problems, mixed with the cultural mores of the 60's and the familial and Jewish guilt of the era, converge to create problems for the narrator. The end is unexpected but not unlikely.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Teresa Garigen on April 5, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book because I was obsessed with The Antler's album Hospice and after reading several interviews with the singer I discovered that he wrote it about an emotionally abusive relationship he was in and because he connected deeply with this novel. Emotionally disastrous relationships? How could I not read it?

The novel ended up being really fascinating and well-written. The relationship between the couple was not as insane as I excepted, but their hopeless need and hate for each other really drew me into their depraved world. Michaels is certainly an accomplished writer, and ever word in this book is very simply to the heart of the matter--this matter being something that has seemed to have haunted him for years. I think a lot of people can relate to the tragic emotions and turmoil of this novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Miles on October 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
Nevertheless, the writing is strong and well-crafted, and the story is very powerful and moving. I found much painful truth in this short book, and it reminded me of some events in my own life, although I'm thankful that I've never experienced anything this extreme. However, I feel that many readers will be able to relate to these scenes of inexplicable conflict between couples, even if their experiences will probably be milder than what the author describes in this fictionalized memoir. Sylvia makes an interesting companion piece to another book that takes place in the early 60s, Revolutionary Road, although Sylvia was more minimalistic, flinty, and poetic, and its characters made the couple in Revolutionary Road look very very bourgeois.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on January 8, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read this if you're into two thoroughly unlikable people ruining each others' lives and having sex. I bought it because I read that it was the inspiration for The Antlers' phenomenal Hospice album, but I find it hard to believe something so beautiful and moving could have come from this. Worth reading for the part where Sylvia throws spaghetti at Leonard and he cries about it, however.
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By Lillie Reder on November 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
Many books and movies in the New York City setting mention the protagonists living next to, or in close proximity to that obnoxious couple with the constant screaming match, yet always stay together in the end. That couple is rarely given attention or a back story. However, Sylvia by Leonard Michaels is dedicated just to that couple. His novel depicts a striving couple in Manhattan in the 1960’s; their initial lustful encounter which led to an unpredicted, unstable 5 years together in pure disdain, madness and an odd inner obsession to be together.
Very relatable to those who let the world pass around them without paying too much attention to detail, and settle in a rut after momentary excitement. The relationship between Sylvia and Leonard is unhealthy and headed for destruction, which is to be expected when they only seem to learn about each other through actions and arguments. They live each day in what seems to be a blur, restrained by each other from what they truly love to do. A lack of passion is evident in their relationship, which they try to overlook with fantasy and drugs.
This read is deep in the most simplistic way as the reader will come to an understanding of losing familiarity, living in a care free mode in order to please another, and coming to the realization that love really doesn’t come easy.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For anyone who has ever been involved with a bright, charismatic person who also unfortunately happens to be suffering from mental illness, Michaels' story is both affirmative and familiar--and well-told. The place and time is New York City, 1960-1964, primarily, and against this historical backdrop of social change and dissolution, so too does Leonards' narrator find himself evolving through his love relationship with his mentally-ill wife. Leonards writes great desriptive prose. I recommend this book, just on that basis alone.
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