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The Marble Quilt Hardcover – September 21, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Leavitt's nine short stories take their cue less from contemporary short-attention-span fiction and more from the stratified ironies of a Malamud or a Cheever. In "The Infection Scene," Leavitt parallels the real life of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), with that of a fictitious but equally malign contemporary cock-teaser, Christopher, a San Francisco teen who has a romantically inaccurate fascination with getting AIDS. Although both Bosie and Christopher are walking disasters, they are also undeniably attractive, wayward nafs. Another, although lesser, naif, Ezra Hartley, is the con man in "The Black Box." Ezra comes to New York with a video he wants to sell the networks, showing footage of a plane that has just exploded on the way to England and the troop of school kids who were on board. He enlists Bob Bookman, a native New Yorker whose lover was also killed in the crash, to help him, drawing him deeply into a clockwork-perfect dance of delusion and lust. In the title story, the narrator, Vincent Burke, gives details of the life of his ex-lover, Tom, to two Roman carabinieri after Tom is found murdered. Although Tom's murder isn't solved in the story, the enigmas in his life from his friendship with patronizing "liberal" straight couples in San Francisco to his late-blooming obsession with marble in Rome become clearer. This story is infused with an anger that exists, like a lit fuse, just below its dense writerliness. Straining to contain his sense of the outrages of gay history beneath the luster of an accomplished style, Leavitt achieves an electric narrative energy. Author tour. (Sept. 4)Forecast: Though smaller in scope than Leavitt's recent novel, Martin Bauman; or, A Sure Thing, this is a more surefooted and emotionally complex effort and should please gay and straight readers alike.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Leavitt (Martin Bauman) here presents a masterly collection of stories that transport us from Italy at the turn of the 19th century, where we follow a small family on their first trip to Europe, to England and a fictional account of Lord Alfred Douglas's life (he was one of Oscar Wilde's lovers) to the United States and the tragedy of a plane crash off the Atlantic Coast. We watch a professional relationship grow and then collapse via e-mail and return to Italy, present day, to find the murder of an ex-lover. As always, Leavitt creates some of the most finely polished characters in fiction today; even minor characters feel real. While this is his greatest strength, it is also a weakness, as sometimes his characters seem to overwhelm the plot. But that is not the case in this fascinating collection of stories. Highly recommended for all collections.
- T.R. Salvadori, Margaret Heggan Free P.L., Hurffville, NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Leavitt experiments in post-modern story telling in "Route 80," a two-part self-reflexive story about a pair of lovers who have broken up; "Speonk," a story with three possible endings about a recently retired soap opera star's efforts to reach the small town of Speonk on eastern Long Island one night and the way his daytime drama personality does (or does not) draw reactions from the people he encounters on the way; and "The List," a modern epistolary story told entirely through the emails exchanged by gay academics, some of whom have never met.
By far the most post-modern story in this collection is "The Infection Scene," the story of two young gay men who make a pact to have unprotected sex so that the uninfected partner can share in his lover's impending doom from AIDS, interwoven with a fictionalized historical account of Alfred Lord Douglas's equally destructive relationship with Oscar Wilde. The contemporary story has the ghoulishness of an urban legend while the historical story seems too confident of its own grasp of the facts to be believable. The ultimate effect (which I suspect is intentional) is to leave the reader questioning the validity and plausibility of any story. As cynical as it may seem, stories, Leavitt seems to be saying, can ultimately do little more than amuse. They cannot teach anything, reveal anything, or guide us through life. You, gentle reader, are what you choose to believe.
This theme also dominates the best story in the collection, "Black Box." Here, using very traditional story-telling techniques, Leavitt chooses one metaphor (the search for fallen commercial jet's black box) to hover in the background of his story. Although certainly written before 9/11/01, it addresses the Grand Guignol aspects of human behavior that have come to the fore since the terrorist attacks of that tragic day. One senses that the lives of people caught up in the numbing banality of modern life are so devoid of meaning that there is an almost romantic surrendering to tragedy and horror. As one character observes, "It's curious how hungry, almost lustful, people get for details. Especially if there's some horrible irony, like the person had just missed another plane" (p. 101). The question seems to be, where do people turn to find meaning and from what do we manufacture it?
Overall, a decent and thoughtful collection of stories, though not as unified and stunning as FAMILY DANCING.
Although all of the nine stories are exceptionally good, the three that stand out for me, and I believe the majority of readers, are definitely, "The Infection Scene", "Black Box, and the title story, "The Marble Quilt". "The Infection Scene" parallels the past and present of two different lives. It deals with the life of Lord Alfred Douglas, during and after his affair with Oscar Wilde, and the life of a fictitious young man named Christopher, who has an obsession with getting AIDS by having unprotected ...[realations] with his lover named Anthony, who is HIV- positive. It shows how restraint & doing the safe thing is just too hard for some people to cope with. It has the power, in this case, to make Christopher do a deadly thing, and not care about the end results. "The Black Box" deals with the death of Bob Bookman's lover... And "The Marble Quilt" tells the story of Vincent, who's ex-lover Tom, is found murdered in his apartment in Rome. Each story deals with death in a different way, and it's the intriguing results that affects the remaining partners' lives that make these stories so realistic and enjoyable.
These stories may sound depressing to read, but they're not. They are as much about living as they are about dying. You'll find yourself asking, "What would I do in the same situations". I'm still thinking about it myself. This is one of David Leavitt's best books yet. It's for sure, we can look forward to more brilliant writing like this from this wonderful author. Highly Recommended!
Contrary to most collections I've encountered, I found that each of these pieces were possessed of a certain captivating quality. Though I won't claim to have been mesmerized by each story, the majority are worthy of being singled out, though space permits me to mention only three. "The List" is an epistolary story for the computer age. "The Black Box" is an ironically timed piece which concerns a man coming to terms with the loss of his companion in a plane crash. "Crossing St. Gottard," is the first story in the collection and also first in my heart. An outstanding prose piece worthy of Forster. Erotically charged, yet never coarse. One is left contented if not quite sated.
These stories enhance Mr. Leavitt's already considerable reputation as a gifted chronicler of the American experiance.