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Famous Builder Paperback – October 1, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At age 12, sitting on the bathroom floor of his family's home, Lisicky (Lawnboy) writes in his head a song he plans to send to The Partridge Family's producers, and dreams of becoming a famous builder like Bill Levitt: "I want those who drive through my communities to be socked in the head with the sheer beauty of all they see." While the specters of building, dwelling in and defining one's self through houses populate this memoir, Lisicky never does become a builder. An accomplished composer and singer, Lisicky begins recording contemporary liturgical music for Folk Mass Today and slowly discovers his talent for writing. His prose-as vivid as it is ethereal-gracefully transports readers to the artist's interior world as he attempts to find the appropriate outlet for his self-expression. Recalling the winding journey towards adulthood, Lisicky meditates on his family's struggles ("You're just a Slovak. You're no better then the rest of us," says his brother of their father's determination to earn a degree in electrical engineering late in life); the family's journey from a working-class Pennsylvania town to the middle-class New Jersey suburbs; as well as his coming to terms with his sexuality. By the book's end, Lisicky moves into maturity while in his 30s in Provincetown, where he finally meets his partner, poet Mark Doty. There are moments of clear, perfect memory (his mother's swinging bell bottoms, boxes of Christmas tree ornaments, and Joni Mitchell's songs' harmonic structures are rendered in stark detail) structural elements of this memoir's "sheer beauty."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Lisicky grew up in the suburbs, but he is anything but a typical suburban kid, and what sets this memoir apart is the lyricism, humor, and refreshing candor with which he describes his life. At age nine, he was inspired by the example of Bill Levitt of Levittown fame to design his own suburban communities, with varied homes and imaginative street names. At age 14, no longer interested in being a famous builder, his creativity found expression in composing liturgical music, an outgrowth of his participation in a church choir. Though many of his compositions were published, he abandoned this path in college, as it did not gel with the person he was becoming. As an adult, he has pursued his literary aspirations while adjusting to his homosexual orientation. He has since published the celebrated novel Lawnboy and currently teaches fiction and creative nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence College. He believes in the "poetry of building" and describes his sexual awakening and experiences with openness and honesty in a way that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, can relate to. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences in Philadelphia Lib.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555973698
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555973698
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,526,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The most subversive thing that Famous Builder does is to retell family history from a queer perspective. Thus, the young narrator�s painstaking journey toward an adult queer life is implicitly compared and connected to the father�s movement up the social ladder. From Paul Lisicky�s point of view, both are quintessentially American acts. How refreshing to read a book in which gay identity is not THE subject of the story but one of its narratives. Every reader will find an aspect of her story mirrored here, regardless of her background. I�ve come back to it again and again, always with something new to ponder.
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Format: Paperback
Sweet. Irreverent. Warm. A little crazed. And still these adjectives don't do justice to the accomplishment of this lovely book.
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Format: Paperback
What a wonderful sociological study! Both hilarious and tragic. It brings out the dysfunctional family that exists in all of us. I'd recommend this book to anyone.
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By A Customer on February 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
Paul Lisicky expects a lot of his readers. He goes after his themes in subtle, crafty ways. Famous Builder doesn't wear its intellect on its sleeves as does the cool-boy, smarter-than-thou postmodernism of Franzen, Moody, Marcus, and Wallace, though its social vision is no less substantial, in spite of its frequently comic voice. Here is an America in which the promise of self-creation co-exists with the bewildering temptation to do yourself in. It's about what it's like to succeed in all the culturally approved ways and feel like an imposter at the same time. Famous Builder couldn't take place anywhere but in the U.S., a culture where the lines of status and class are constantly being revised, where no one is sure of who or what they are, and the newly minted live with the anxiety of losing it all. Of being "found out." Of ending up right back where they started. Or, worse, with less. "Who are you," asks the narrator, "if you've recreated yourself?" I haven't read such a deft book in ages. Somehow Paul Lisicky manages to dramatize these ideas with stunningly precise language, sympathetic characters, emotional depth, and an unrelenting drive toward clarity and generosity. This is a major leap after Lawnboy. I'm certain that Paul Lisicky is well on his way toward an exceptional future as a writer.
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By A Customer on February 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Every now and then I come across a book that takes hold of all my free time, that practically nothing gets accomplished until I reach the last page. This was one such book! The author has accomplished to portrait his journey from middle America youth to adulthood with great observation, introspection, and delirious humor. I loved it!
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By A Customer on February 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Every now and then I come across a book that occupies all my free time. This is one such book! The author has accomplished to portrait his journey from middle America childhood to adulthood with great observation, introspection, and delirious humor. I loved it!
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Format: Paperback
Lisicky's Famous Builder is one book that can be judged by its cover which is beautiful, precise, subtle,and nuanced. Hemingway noted that "writing is architecture, not interior decoration," and in this startling collection of essays and memoirettes that trace Lisicky's emotional development while they simultaneously recreate, re-invent and reevaluate the South Jersey towns he loved and moved away from, Lisicky builds a lasting work of art. Sentence for sentence there is nothing frivolous or expendable in Famous Builder. Its emotional range is astonishing. A must read for anyone who has looked closely (or longs to look closely) at the worlds around and inside him. One of the more cohesive, unusual and engaging collections of essays to come along in recent years. It deserves serious attention. Lisicky is a fresh and innovative architect of the form.
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Format: Paperback
No one can read Famous Builder without falling in love with its boy narrator and the writer he grows up to be. With an always feverish brain, the child narrator sees his mundane suburb as something intense and wonderful, awful and strange, always more than the world his family and neighbors dwell in. He is always on the verge of exploding -- or imploding, perhaps -- with his own creative energy, and heightened sensitivity to the energies arising all around him.
He builds models of housing developments, naming each street and tract, dreaming of becoming a "famous builder." As an adolescent, he writes and performs liturgical music, while grappling with the incongruities of his emerging sexual identity and the Church's creed. This narrator seems both lightning rod and lightning. He is lithe and sensuous, gawky and prone to embarrassment. This is a boy whose "heart is beating so hard that he wants to rip it out of [his] chest," who "sees everything in the dark: the oil stain rainbowing the driveways; the bronzing pachysandra, the dewberry."
The adult Paul finds writing, but his creativity is still marked by the tension between shame of his distinctive, attuned self, and the drive for reckless self-exposure. The world, for Lisicky, "overflows with wildness, danger, and beauty." So does this book. Its grabs its readers and pleads: See more, feel more: more light, more life, more beauty.
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