four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-GriefAn unnamed, middle-aged narrator has just buried his mother in Florida after caring for her for 12 years. He eagerly moves to Washington, D.C. to teach a university seminar on Literature and AIDS, escape his old "non-life," and start over. He crosses paths with the unnamed landlord of his Dupont Circle townhouse, also in his mid-50s, who became celibate after losing many friends to AIDS in the 1980s. Through his long night walks through the city and his nearly obsessive reading of Mary Todd Lincoln’s letters and the overwhelming despair contained in them, Holleran’s narrator initially finds only guilt in his grief for his mother, to whom he never admitted his homosexuality—until he starts to engage with the living.
Hyperion. 150 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 1401302505

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Andrew Holleran is not only one of the most accomplished homosexual writers in the United States; he has proved over a long career to be the one most resolute in delineating the gay experience in America within the broader context of civil society. His new novel, Grief, is likely to be seen as his most socially and politically significant work yet." James McCourt

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The quirks of each character are subtly, flavorfully drawn. … And Holleran captures the contradictory character of our capital city—its wealth, its poverty, its idealistic past, its compromised present—with a rare facility." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This slender volume conjures up a rich and deeply seductive, satisfying world, one that welcomes readers gay, straight, single, coupled or otherwise." Elizabeth Hand

Time Out New York 4 of 5 Stars
"Reading missives that the terminally bereaved Mary penned after her husband was assassinated, the narrator meditates on survivor’s guilt—how we can never quite put the past behind us, even though we need to in order to live." Sean Kennedy

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Our hero finds some consolation reading (at an implausibly slow pace) the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln, semiprofessional mourner, and tries to forget the rotting roof in his Florida home. … In a novella that’s not just post-AIDS but virtually post-sex, Andrew Holleran exquisitely captures the many nuances of loss." Thom Geier

Philadelphia Inquirer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Now that AIDS’s moment in the public eye has come and gone, and his mother has died, Holleran’s narrator can see how elusive intimacy has been for him—how completely he failed to achieve it through the pursuit of sex. … [The novel’s structure] suggests that grief, like intimacy, is a period—not something to count on or dwell in, but to experience under the premise that it is fleeting." John Freeman

Critical Summary

In his fifth work of fiction, Andrew Holleran, author of the widely praised Dancer from the Dance (1978), explores the complex issues surrounding grief while offering multifaceted impressions of Washington, D.C. Critics praised Holleran’s lyrical writing, his subtle and flavorful characterizations, and the beauty of his observations—especially in his evocations of the city. Several admired Holleran’s refusal to deal with grief in simplistic terms. John Freeman carped that the novel was a "talky piece of fiction" in which "dialogue nudges the narrative along." But even he admitted that "the languorous beauty of Holleran’s observations gives the book bottom and weight." Most critics agree with Michael Upchurch that "this brief, quiet novel may be [Holleran’s] best yet."

Also by the Author

Dancer from the Dance (1978): In his debut novel, Holleran celebrates (and satirizes) a small group of gay men who, post-Stonewall, divide their time between Greenwich Village and Fire Island.