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A Stone Boat Hardcover – November, 1994

4.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though he's a rising classical pianist recording his first CD, Harry is experiencing "the saddest period of my life." His mother is dying of cancer and she blames her illness on his homosexuality. "My mother wanted me to have a perfect life, more perfect even than hers," Harry, who's in his mid-20s, observes in his wish to be seen as both a good son and an independent man. What he's keeping secret from his mother, however, is that, inspired by his attraction to a female friend, he's becoming aware of his fundamental bisexuality. Solomon's prose is stylish, sometimes beautiful, but it suffers from a vagueness that hovers about the relationships it describes ("When something saddened me, she came and joined me in my pain," says Harry of his mother). The characters live in a world of upper-class homes and hotels in Paris, London and Manhattan, with weekends in country homes and maids and chauffeurs at their disposal, a backdrop of privilege that sometimes edges into preciousness ("I associate my mother's entire illness with cut flowers," Harry notes). Yet the contrast between the idyllic existence money can buy and the inexorable ugliness of death is poignantly obvious. Harry's struggle to cope with his parent's impending death is observed with passion and conviction. Solomon (The Ivory Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost), a senior writer for the New York Times Magazine, shows great promise in his fiction debut.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Love and death make dramatic entrances in this elegiac first novel by nonfiction writer Solomon (The Ivory Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost, 1991) about a young concert pianist who plays for time while his mother is dying of cancer. First-person narrator Harry is under 30, gay, and always striving for perfection in his music, his sexual partners, and his aesthetic rhetoric, with which he tries heroically (and sometimes pretentiously) to wring beauty from the ordinary while visiting stylish locations in London, Paris, and Manhattan. He observes the textures of flowers, different foods, the surfaces of bodies. Harry also picks a fight with his bland lover Bernard and has three intense affairs, one with a longtime female friend, to escape his depression over his mother's terminal illness. Early in the novel, she blames her suffering on his homosexuality and tries to manipulate him into a more conventional life style: ``I know you think you're being honest or true to yourself or something, but what you have with Bernard can't be greater than that combination of love and children that you could have with Helen or someone.'' The mother, still in her 50s, does not want to die early, but she also doesn't want her last days to be horrific. When chemotherapy does not appear to have halted the cancer, she plans her date with death as carefully as if it were a wedding, attending a party the week before in a grand show of matriarchal dignity as she climbs a staircase unassisted. ``One step at a time, regal as the Queen of Sheba, my mother climbed that staircase. The long rope of pearls swung slightly as she walked, as though it were telling time,'' writes Solomon in one particularly poignant passage. An elegant and moving examination of a difficult subject. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition edition (November 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571172407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571172405
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,918,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Dear Andrew Solomon, This is a fan letter: PLEASE keep writing such beautiful fiction. PLEASE write another novel as soon as possible. I have never come across Solomon's prose in "The New Yorker" and have not read his two non-fiction books, one about artists in the Soviet Union and one about Depression. A STONE BOAT is his first novel. It was a birthday gift to me and I read it in three days. I then waited one day and read it all over again. It is one of the most elegantly written novels I've ever read: Solomon chooses words as if they were precious jewels and then sets them perfectly. And yet, the reader is never conscious of the author, as Armistead Maupin says, "using a ten dollar word when a ten cent word will do." A STONE BOAT tells of a gifted classical pianist, Harry, at the beginning of what will no doubt be a major career. An American living in London, Harry joins his privileged family for what is supposed to be a joyous holiday in France. But it is here that they learn that Harry's mother has cancer. This tragedy is the centerpiece of the narrative, but it is the lives that touch Harry's and his mother's that make the book even more fascinating and complex, funny, charming and, above all, achingly beautiful. The novel is not packed with scores of characters. Rather it is an intimate story of a family and the few who are their satellites: from Harry's good-hearted, passive, British male lover to his wise and strong American girlfriend, from his unforgiving, tough-minded agent to his hedonistic sex partner, Nick. It is, in the end, a story of life conquering death, of a family bonding at first to refuse Death admittance to their home and then, finally, conspiring to help one of their own die, in her own way and time by her own hand with dignity and grace. This is a once-in-a-lifetime read: a novel to cherish. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Format: Paperback
I don't read a great deal of fiction, but when I do, I want a book to hook me right away and keep me turning pages until I am finished, and then have me regret that the story is over. One such book was Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. This is another one.

Andrew Solomon writes some of the best prose I have ever read. And in doing so, he conveys the psychological struggles of his main character in a very compelling way. Doubtless the book is at least partially autobiographical, which reveals his intensely deep struggle with his homosexuality and the impending loss of his mother, who is dying of cancer. The book also offers Solomon's insight as a psychologist into the nuances of human behavior and emotion. For example, he shows the difference between sympathy and empathy, which are often confused as being the same. Harry breaks off his relationship with his lover in England because his lover had sympathy for what Harry was experiencing, but no empathy.

The book is not for everyone, I'm sure. It's not a highly charged adventure novel full of blood, guts, and sex. But it is a wonderful exposition that makes you think about the human condition and the struggles we all go through with some aspect of ourselves that we feel are condemned by society, and the losses of loved ones that we must inevitably experience.
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Format: Paperback
Andrew Solomon's "A Stone Boat" is a remarkable first novel. The author's mastery of the English language and the way he uses it to create senses of setting and character are incredible. There is much to admire, too, in Mr. Solomon's way with a story. His characters are real as are their relationships. Harry, the main charactor/narrator, describes his mother upon first sight in the most extraordinary way - close your eyes and you see her sitting across the room. This passage is one to read and re-read all the while savoring the beauty of the language and the sheer descriptive powers of the author. Do not lend this book to your friends or you will never see it again - the prose is that remarkable. One hopes Mr. Solomon is working on his second, third and fourth books as this review is being written.
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Format: Paperback
This is a very touching and wonderfully written novel. Every scene in it has the feel of authenticity. Highly recommended for readers willing to let themselves be moved emotionally by powerful prose.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Andrew Solomon is a terrific writer and infuses his story with so many insights into human relationships and the trials and tribulations of growing up, experiencing loss, and holding on to the things that matter. Personally, I just love his way with words and I read this book two times, back to back.. with plans to read it again. There's a lot to be learned in this treasure of a story with amazing characters all on their own journeys and crossing each other's paths... It was written long ago but is as relevant as ever, an excellent read.
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Format: Paperback
Andrew Solomon, A Stone Boat

`A portrait of a rich, effete sissy-boy.' That was my verdict on The Stone Boat when it first appeared two decades ago. A second reading over four weeks this summer revealed the book as a worthy contribution to the Agony Memoir category of fiction. Solomon, who speaks here through the mask of a young talented pianist called Harry, has an obsessively introverted mother fixation. He is, to say the least, a self-pitying egotist whose world centres on his family. The book is, as Solomon says in his Acknowledgements, `above all a novel about love.' Indeed, the word `love' is threaded through every page, appearing no less than fourteen times on one.

The book is less novel than confession, and I wonder if it was the author's need to mask the `facts' that resulted in his choice of category. Certainly, as a `gay' novel it is not disgraced by a comparison with works by Gilbert Adair and Alan Hollinghurst, although here the character of Harry is conflated with that of his author.

The story deals with the traumas suffered by Harry and his family when the mother `regal as the Queen of Sheba' is diagnosed with cancer. Harry, jet-setting between concerts in England and America, seeks consolation in the arms and beds of various men - as well as family friend Helen in New York. The male lovers seem somewhat lay figures (pun intentional) being either macho types or sympathetic guys who can't stay long. Helen is always waiting in the wings with much sensible advice, forever offering a shoulder to cry on. Harry is as much torn apart by terror and grief as his mother is by her recurrent tumours and chemotherapy.
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