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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Look out, everyone! She's armed and dangerous! 
10th-Nov-2005 11:41 pm
And she's not afraid to wave her latest read in the direction of innocent bystanders. Yep, that's right. I'm about to inflict another of my patented book reviews on you. Brace yourself. (No, if you're wondering, I don't speed-read. I just don't sleep, either.)

Anyway, if you're a book addict looking for fixes, this one is like pure heroin:

Lowenthal, Michael. Avoidance. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 2002.
Summary: Jeremy Stull is doing his doctoral dissertation on the Amish and their practice of "shunning," yet he is haunted by what happened at the Ironwood Summer Camp. As a boy, it was his polestar; as an adult, he is a counselor. Enter Max, an enigmatic boy to whom Jeremy feels attracted. Tormented by his desire, he nonetheless becomes a confessor of sorts for the boy and discovers to his horror that childhood friend and camp director Charlie has molested the boy--actually doing what Jeremy only dreamed. In the end, Jeremy admits his infatuation to Max, and exiles himself from the camp forever.
Comments: The one word that comes to mind is SEARING. Think a cross between Lolita and Mysterious Skin. For some, I'm sure, even knowing that Jeremy was fantasizing about Max is enough to condemn him, yet because he nobly restrains himself, because his is ABLE to restrain himself, he remains a sympathetic, albeit ambiguous hero. While Jeremy's disparate experiences with the shunned Beulah and her sister Sadie's family could have been more fleshed out, and the author could have highlighted the paradox of Jeremy's experience in these two Amish worlds, the Ironwood plotline is captivating, and even the mundane details of the boys' summer camp suck you right into this at least superficially idyllic world. As you might guess, this novel plays with some common gay fiction themes, including societal alienation, escapism, illness (Max's mother has AIDS, apparently), and the father (figure) as sexual object, even though Jeremy is not explicitly gay. But, still. Avoidance is oh so much more than just another throwaway gay fiction novel. You'll feel sick at heart reading of the fourteen-year-old Jeremy wishing that the camp's founder Ruff would molest HIM and not Charlie. And, in spite of yourself, you'll feel for this guy's thwarted desire. I love the way that Lowenthal equates Jeremy's experiences with the two sides of Amish life with the way he both empathizes with the pain of Max's abuse and the selfsame desire for Max that Charlie feels. He sees it from both sides, and it means that he belongs nowhere. This is a story, ultimately, about alienation and the simultaneous need for human connection. Though Lowenthal does not shy away from the idea that Amish communities have very real problems, he glosses over and idealizes family life. Even so, there is so much genuine magic here, and the minor flaws of the novel are most definitely eclipsed by its affective power. When is love pure, and when is it transgressive? When is avoidance the best route? It's rare to see these questions addressed with such grace.
Notes: trade paperback, 1st edition
Rating: 8/10 - An EXCELLENT novel, but not for the weak-willed or morally-outraged reader, by any means.
11th-Nov-2005 10:07 am (UTC)
I've heard of this book. I like the sound of it very much, particularly the Amish angle, but I think maybe I'll wait a while before reading another novel about paedophilia and child abuse, even one that addresses the complexities of those issues in the manner of the movie L.I.E..
11th-Nov-2005 12:27 pm (UTC)
Soo, into that man/boy love thing eh? ^_~
11th-Nov-2005 12:49 pm (UTC)
It seemed particularly apt after the last post. ^_~
11th-Nov-2005 01:06 pm (UTC)
Right now, a former school board member is reading this; "I knew it! I KNEW IT!!" ^_^
11th-Nov-2005 01:08 pm (UTC)
*snickers* The ironic part? This book was published with the help of some hwavy-duty grants. It's "high art."
11th-Nov-2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
Well we all know high art is the work of the devil! Only religious subjects should be allowed, Christian ones, not any of them funny religions, because all them heathens are going straight to hell and will burn in agony for all eternity.. But God loves them.........
11th-Nov-2005 06:16 pm (UTC)
*plays devil's advocate*
But I like Christian motifs. All those angels and saints in stained glass windows who look like men but aren't. So prettily androgynous^_~
11th-Nov-2005 06:22 pm (UTC)
Hee, so do I *^_^* I also went to big churches in every country I've been to, just to see the art and architecture, and of course to see an actual mass at the Vatican...

All those angels and saints in stained glass windows who look like men but aren't. So prettily androgynous

Kinda makes you wonder what the artists were really thinking ^_~
11th-Nov-2005 07:53 pm (UTC)
Kinda makes you wonder what the artists were really thinking ^_~

Repressed homosexuals, all. Naturally.
11th-Nov-2005 08:23 pm (UTC)
What she said^_~
11th-Nov-2005 07:48 pm (UTC)
The book's theme is an Amish religious practice. How much more spiritual can you get? :P
11th-Nov-2005 04:51 pm (UTC) - Avoidance
I bought this book, like, a million years ago - at the same time I bought DREAM BOY by Jim Grimsley (which quickly became a favourite) and Marshall Moore's THE CONCRETE SKY. I have not yet read Moore's book (partly because I heard terrible things about it since buying it) or AVOIDANCE but, based on your review, think I'll start on the latter next week. [I might actually put EDWARD, EDWARD aside to read it - something I almost never do!]

Thanks for the great review and rec.
11th-Nov-2005 07:57 pm (UTC) - Re: Avoidance
Well, for what it's worth, I liked this one a heck of a lot more than I like Edward, Edward! It's a beautiful book that achieves nearly everything that it aspires to.
11th-Nov-2005 06:24 pm (UTC) - What do you think?
Have you read this post? What do you think?

Link: http://www.livejournal.com/users/cereta/189901.html?style=mine
11th-Nov-2005 07:51 pm (UTC) - Re: What do you think?
I've heard about that in various places through the grapevine, but I really don't care.
29th-Nov-2005 11:27 pm (UTC)
Review archived.
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