As a teenager in Oak Ridge, Illinois, Walter McCloud is desperate for adventure, hoping for love and success as a dancer. "If life for Walter was composed in part of confusion, shame and deception, the ballet was order, dignity and forthright beauty." In 1995, at 38, nothing has turned out as he had expected. Having spent years working in a dollhouse shop in New York and engaging in that city's ready sexual excitement, Walter finally returns to his Midwestern roots, accepting a teaching job in Otten, Wisconsin--a place that might have little to recommend it save its proximity to his family's summer home. ("It had taken Walter several years to admit to himself that he couldn't go on indefinitely selling Lilliputian Coke bottles and microscopic toilet-roll dowels.") In this new community, he will have to keep his head down, a stance that has long suited him, because he prefers to hold one memory of lost intimacy and perfection in high, private relief.
Walter's exile, or new start, allows memory to come to the fore, particularly that painful year in which his brother was dying of Hodgkin's and he and his fellow dancers were dying for experience. Jane Hamilton explores the distance between desire and reality, satisfaction and secrecy, irresistibly alternating between past and present. At first, we can't wait for Walter to break through, and it's tempting to race through her prince's history--one which is, happily, not that short. But to do so would be to miss out on Hamilton's fine major and minor characters and her exploration of competition, complicity, and silence. At one point, Walter fears that his pupils have "no clue that there was pleasure to be found in observing character. They seemed to be afraid to look around themselves and find a world every bit as amusing, ridiculous and unjust as Dickens's London..." Hamilton's readers, however, will find this pleasure in abundance.
From Library Journal
Funny, complicated Walter McCloud is at the heart of this quiet interior novel, which gracefully wanders back and forth between two decades?Walter's early 1970s sophomore year in high school and his late 1990s stint as a small-town Midwest high school teacher. As Hamilton has shown in Map of the World (LJ 5/15/94), no one writes better of the abyss that cracks apart family members facing the loss of a child. As Walter's 18-year-old brother, Daniel, lies dying of cancer during much of the 1972-73 school year, Walter comes to grips with his own homosexuality and the inaccessibility of his parents, who are swallowed up in their grief. Walter's pivotal friendships with the beautiful Susan and Mitch, the boy they both love, sustains, shatters, and alters his sense of self as he stumbles toward adulthood. Hamilton's forte?depicting adolescents left not by villainy but by circumstance on the fringes of family life while they figure out ways to raise themselves?is at its most painful clarity in this novel. Highly recommended.-?Beth E. Anderson, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., Mich.
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