When Daniel Mendelsohn was growing up, he "secretly imagined a place where all the people were other boys, and where all the stores and books and songs and movies and restaurants were by boys, about other boys. It would be a place where somehow the outside reality of the world that met your eyes and ears could finally be made to match the inner, hidden reality of what you knew yourself to be." And while he's found that place in Manhattan's Chelsea district, Mendelsohn has only one foot there--his other foot is in suburban New Jersey, where he acts as a masculine role model ("not exactly a father but a man who would be present") to the young son of a close friend. The Elusive Embrace
is an elegantly written memoir that shifts effortlessly between these locales, and between the events in Mendelsohn's life and the Greek and Roman classics that are his academic specialty. Whether he's elaborating upon his earliest explorations of his sexuality or teasing out the secrets that redefine his family history, he writes with admirable grace and delicacy. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
Weaving philosophical musings and discussions of Greek myths and drama with his personal experiences, Mendelsohn explores issues of identity, sexuality, fatherhood, family and history in five essays that amount to an idiosyncratic memoir. A lecturer in classics at Princeton whose literary criticism has appeared in the New Yorker and Out, he aims to understand the apparent contradictions of his life as a single gay man and a father figure to a friend's son, and as a critic and consumer of gay culture who lives amidst yet apart from his Jewish immigrant family's heterosexuality. Despite his ambition, however, Mendelsohn doesn't entirely hit his mark. The book is flawed by a style that aims to be elegantly elaborateAone sentence is 404 words longAbut comes across as pretentious (as when he employs "necropolis" instead of "cemetery" for little reason). His use of Greek myths is neither original nor insightful; a three-page sketch of the story of Antigone feels like filler. More problematic, however, is Mendelsohn's tendency not simply to generalize but to universalize from his own experience. He makes such dubious claims as this: "when men have sex with a woman they fall 'into' the woman... gay men fall through their partners back into themselves." He also frequently speaks unreflectively of all gay men as a single group, undercutting his credibility as a social observer and critic. In the end, his intense focus on the primacy of his experience and the lack of social and historical context diminishes the resonance his own experience might have for others.
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