Coming out of the box with extremely strong books of both poetry (The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic!/Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020) and short stories (The Violence Almanac/Black Lawrence Press, 2021), author Miah Jeffra had a lot riding on his long-form novel debut, but talent will out, and American Gospel proves to be just as interesting and assured as his poetry and short fiction.
American Gospel is about the gentrification of an old, dilapidated Inner Harbor neighborhood in Baltimore and the redevelopment’s effect on three of its residents: Ruth, a woman escaping an abusive relationship with her husband Isaac, her young, gay son Peter, and a teacher at Peter’s school, Brother Thomas. A feeling of impermanence grows as properties are bought or seized, services are suspended, and nothing is reliable or safe anymore, culminating in a public protest against the proposed theme park that changes the lives of everyone involved.
Jeffra’s narrative has a slow build so that the reader can get to know its characters first, a wise move that results in a huge emotional payoff at the climax. And those characters are stunning, Ruth in particular. Jeffra does an amazing job of capturing her desperation, so all-encompassing it morphs into paranoia and takes perhaps the darkest turn in the book. But her son, Peter, has his own problems, including falling in love with a maybe not-so-straight boy named Jude. Brother Thomas, meanwhile, is having a crisis of faith. Jeffra handles all these viewpoints with ease, pulling each off brilliantly. You’ll find yourself hooked by these voices.
An air of decay suffuses the book from without and within, Jeffra capturing the slow urban decline with the grace and dignity inherent in a last, lost gesture as the community members gather together to protest their eradiction. Always artful yet never showy, Jeffra’s prose blows bleak air over his characters’ attempt at fighting the system–with predictable and still heartbreaking results. Neverthess, Jeffra winds it all up well, leaving no story thread unraveled.
Miah Jeffra’s American Gospel is a cautionary tale, an unflinching portrayal of greed overcoming common sense. The story is an old one, but Jeffra’s excellent writing and impeccable choices show off its evergreen relevance. I can’t think of a better book to begin your summer reading season.
The American dream of prosperity, family and fame perversely births a second, darker dream: the fantasia to escape all of the requisite pressure and exposure the primary vision leverages for ballast. Brian Alessandro lances both oily bubbles to great cinematic effect with Performer Non Grata. The novel initially serves as a satirical takedown of masculine tropes as they play out in the workplace, the family, interpersonal relationships and across an endless stream of ever-expanding social media platforms; at the center of this roiling New York City psychodrama: uber-rich and ever fuming Risk Bonaventura, a throbbing narcissist. However, as the novel unfolds, his icy wife, the controversial and tenured professor Lorna, and queer home-schooled son Theo, a budding artist, share a near equal amount of screen time. And the book often feels like a darkened theater, with our collective online projections of parched fame and thwarted desire the postmodern horror movie that fills the room with dread and longing. Though literary influences are surging just beneath the surface throughout, Alessandro’s forgoes the exhausted cliches typical of the post-modern novel, deepening the impression that film is a primary source of inspiration here. As the family self-sabotages and each character self-destructs they flee America, investing in Risk’s absurd machismo yearning to become a bullfighter in Madrid -the whole thing has the push and pull of Godard’s The Weekend. The sexual grimoire that is the final third of Performer Non Grata reads like a familial inversion of Pasolini’s Salo‘, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
The perverse panache of the prose on display shows that Alessandro insidiously enjoys subverting the typical love triangle, as Risk’s idol, the Spanish matador Javier, first develops an online friendship with the besotted Theo before they all meet in the flesh (and I do mean flesh). In Madrid, Javier, ever the hyper-masculine player set on conquering anyone and everyone (how like Risk!), flirts with Lorna to disastrous effect. This celebrity jock, bullish in his sexual prowess and belief that he’ll get one over on these obsessive Americans, has seriously underestimated the deepening desperation of this twisted family unit. How symbolic of the vast destructive powers of American capitalism that the world laughs at us as we consume wholesale their culture, their natural resources, their young:
“Lorna nodded. It hadn’t been lost on her that she and her husband and son were living a lurid version of their former selves. A penance. Repetition. There was dignity in the danger, a sacred peace in the peril and the debauchery. She felt at home within it, as she knew Risk had, as she knew Theo had.”
Back to Risk. Why explore such a repellent character? In a recent article in The Gay and Lesbian Review, Alessandro explores the current state of queer literature: “the premise was that the majority of LGBT characters in literature and film are either saints or victims. Publishers and producers seem too timid to permit us more complex roles, like villains, or at least flawed antiheroes.” This gives our community a false sense of self, removing us from the larger American tapestry and thus untethered, we are left unaware just how innate is the darkness that we flippantly define as an external force. And the final chapters of the novel! I’ve not read such brutal social criticism since encountering Gary Indiana at the height of his powers. After Javier’s ruthless, porcine family is introduced, and Risk commits an atrocious, unforgiveable act, a dark crescendo is set in motion. Think Pedro Almodovar, think Francis Bacon, think about the bull and what he has to lose, and why we never really win.
Reviewed by Tom Cardamone, editor of Crashing Cathedrals: Edmund White by the Book, and the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning speculative novella Green Thumb as well as the erotic fantasy The Lurid Sea and other works of fiction, including two short story collections. Additionally, he has edited The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered and co-edited Fever Spores: The Queer Reclamation of William S. Burroughs.
What’s new for your spring reading season? Here are some great new titles from some old friends and from some authors we’ve never heard before. Hey, the more voices the better. Buy/preorder at the links. If you are a publisher or an author with a new release you’d like to see get some attention in this space, please let me know at email@example.com.
From Book Brilliance:
A Lot of People Live in This House – Bailey Merlin
When Lori Horvitz was twenty-one, she backpacked across Europe without a set itinerary. She arrived in Oslo, after riding a night train from Frankfort, and decided to call her family back in the States. Since this was in the days before cell phones and e-mail she had to go to an international post office and make a collect call; her mother, upon answering (on a “turquoise rotary telephone”) refused to accept the charges. Horvitz called her then-boyfriend, an anarchist, who did accept the charges. When she returned to Manhattan, she and he moved to Minneapolis, then almost immediately back to Manhattan; eventually they split up. Horvitz began to date women, starting with a British woman she met while traveling abroad. Horvitz’s mother would die four years later, in a car accident.
This incident would haunt Horvitz (literally) for years, and she would revisit it in a workshop on financial literacy for women, with her therapist, and in her creative non-fiction: it is the title essay of her second collection of essays, Collect Call to My Mother: Essays on Love, Grief, and Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. As the opening essay, it establishes the basis for the rest of her collection: her mother, sparing in money, was also sparing in affection to her daughter, and this had a profound effect on Horvitz’s search for a long-term relationship. The premature loss of her mother similarly would cause bouts of insomnia and anxiety for years afterward; Horvitz would spend years exorcising these childhood demons and adulthood ghosts.
The essays in her collection, arranged chronologically (I presume) chronicle her travels, physical, intellectual, and emotional. Horvitz spent most of her twenties traveling, so that she “didn’t have to think about my family, or missing them, or if they thought about me. I could wander and make new friends, as if they were family.” After achieving an MFA and Ph.D., she eventually left New York and settled in Ashville, NC. When she started dating women, they were “unavailable,” either physically and/or emotionally distant. In “The Last Freight Train,” she explicitly describes how her attachment style (which she labels “anxious”) would invariably seek out women with “avoidance” attachment styles in a repetitious dance. Several essays (among them “The Gift-Giver,” “The Scent of Nag Champa,” “Three Veterinarians”) describe this dance, with unflinching honesty, which her body often recognized before her brain. (Which is not to say that there isn’t a wry humor in Horvitz’s essays: in “Search and Rescue,” she compares Internet dating to finding a new dog over the Internet.)
Of course, the level of self-awareness needed to acknowledge these insights required years of (metaphoric) wrong turns, dead ends, and running in place. But just as she was traveling away from her birth family and chaotic upbringing, she was simultaneously traveling towards self-awareness, and self-acceptance. For example, after visiting Auschwitz she began to embrace her Jewishness (“Comfortable Shoes”); after remaining closeted during her twenties and thirties, she eventually even accepted feminist (“Big Guts/Big Hearts”) and queer identities (“Victory Lap”). As arduous as these disparate but connected journeys were for Horvitz, she retells them with honesty, humor, and grace; and not to give away the ending, but yes, she does eventually get a good night’s sleep.
A successful lawyer confronts personal demons while fighting for asylum for his undocumented partner. Set in the 1990s, Ortega-Medina’s latest novel is strong in themes of persecution and forced displacement, from the inherited traumas of Syrian-American Jews to the plight of Central American political refugees seeking harbor in the United States.
Marc, the lawyer, is the main character and the product of a rabbinical family, which in the span of two generations had to flee from Syria to Cuba and then from Cuba to the U.S. to escape religious intolerance. That background is important, though Marc enters the 90s narrative as a thirty-something, high powered lawyer who appears to have his life well in-hand. He’s a partner in a thriving, boutique firm and coupled-up with a live-in boyfriend, Isaac. They live comfortably in San Francisco, the perfect place for gay men to enjoy freedom and community, albeit in a time before marriage equality.
Quickly, Marc’s facade of happiness erodes. A caseload of ethically-questionable clients is burning him out and leaving him distracted and at risk of falling back into addiction. Isaac wants more from Marc, who works long days and forgets their plans to meet for lunch. Marc has a dream to move to the Napa Valley where he could build his own practice, and he and Isaac would be happier together. Then Marc is drawn into a fascination with a charismatic client, Alejandro, who has a sexual harassment suit against a gay employer. Soon after, a crisis hits. Isaac receives a summons from immigration court that could result in his expulsion to El Salvador. A decade earlier, Isaac crossed the border to the United States to escape the bloody civil war that took the lives of both his parents and his brother.
Flawed heroes can make for compelling reads, or, when the crafting is off-balance, they can turn the reader off. Given the rawness of American immigration politics, it’s possible that some will have a hard time finding sympathy with Marc’s missteps when he ought to be supporting the man he loves who’s undergoing a terrifying ordeal. The author has a lot to juggle here. Marc’s recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is on thin tethers. He’s in the midst of reconciling with his conservative family that cannot fully accept his gayness. He’s haunted by memories of his first boyfriend, a free-spirited, hallucinogenic-friendly young Israeli, whose death left Marc with scars of guilt.
That’s all relatable stuff, but as the story progresses, Marc scarcely resists the sketchy charms of Alejandro, whose history with gay men rather obviously suggests opportunism rather than victimization. Marc lies to Isaac about the nature of their relationship, and his actions jeopardize Isaac’s case for asylum. He’s so consumed by unresolved issues with his Israeli lover, he justifies his affair with Alejandro as a way to repair himself.
The author’s portrayal of Marc’s position has more compelling moments, particularly when his parents come into the picture, and one can feel Marc’s psychic toll from rejecting the religious aspects of his identity in order to live an authentic life. To his rabbi father, he’s rejecting a tradition of cultural pride against a world that sought to annihilate Jews or at least expel them. Marc is pulled in many directions. Isaac’s own traumatic history is a lot to deal with, and he withholds feelings and disappears for stretches at a time. Is Marc just doing the best he can? Is his entanglement with Alejandro forgivable, given Marc’s longtime struggle to distinguish love from emotional harm? At the very least, Ortega-Medina can be credited with creating a deeply thought-provoking story, whether it has you in its grip to see what happens next or has you screaming at your tablet at times.
As Isaac’s legal battle heats up, the story becomes more of a courtroom drama. The author is a lawyer himself and renders many procedural details that are educative to readers who want to take a deep dive into immigration law, while others may find themselves skimming through the pages. Where the story succeeds the most is in illuminating how the lived experiences of Jewish immigrants, Hispanic refugees, and LGBTQ+ people intersect around exclusion and the very right to exist. For that alone, it’s a noteworthy novel that will have resonance for many readers.
April being National Poetry Month, I thought it would be a good time for the Spring Poetry Roundup, highlighting four spectacular releases from four extremely talented writers. I try to do two roundups a year, in the spring and fall, though I don’t always have enough material to make that happen. If you have suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. And now, on to our poets:
The Pressure of All That Light – Holly Painter (Rebel Satori Press)
Holly Painter’s third collection of poetry is separated into three sections, each a different locale and stage of her life–Michigan, California, and New Zealand, each part charting a path of discover. The poems comprising Michigan are uncertain and searching, many of them characterized by her reactions to the italicized speech of others: the gym teacher in “Assembly” or the woman who finds her boyish-looking and insists she’s in the wrong restroom in “Please don’t hurt me,” one of my favorites here. The California pieces are far more assured. speaking to a clarity and cleverness only possible from someone who thinks they’ve figured out what things are all about, such as the then-and-now rhythm of her “Apologetics of a College Freshman” and the summation of a life so-far-lived in “San Francisco Self-Examiner,” the title of which still makes me smile. But the surety of these poems is totally undercut by the disconnects of the New Zealand poems, characterized by jarring images such as the “asterisk-headed dandelions” and “metal trees” of “Dandelion,” and the dead man’s suit in “Shipwrecked, I Arrive.” Painter finds grace in disarray but no comfort in travel in this thoughtful and accessible collection.
Saints of the Republic – Chip Livingston (Spuyten Duyvil)
Unlike Painter, queer/two-spirit, mixed blood Cree writer Chip Livingston, author of two previous collections of poetry and a number of other works, is not only comfortable in travel but rhapsodic about settling in his newfound home of Uruguay, well-represented in his latest release, Saints of the Republic. Like Painter, the collection is split into three parts: “Santos de La Republica,” “Home Catechism,” and the titular “Saints of the Republic.” Livingston delights in removing the worship of convention from his saints, transmogrifying them to a more visceral level, as in “San Vitalis of Fetishes,” which name-checks Mapplethorpe’s Piss Christ, or providing choices in the path a poem is read, such as “San Timotheos’ Line” or “San Judas Tadeo, Apostle of God’s Image.” The longest poem in the first section, “Alphabet of the Republic,” proclaims the reasons for Livingston’s joy in his adopted country, and is so convincing you might find yourself checking airfare prices. But there are interesting pieces anywhere you look here: the backward thrust of “The Heat Run,” the freewheeling tilt of “52 Hawks,” and the possibilities of “Could Be You.” But above all, this is a very earthy, elemental compendium of pieces. Body parts and images abound. culminating in pieces like “War Pornography,” Finding Love in Chelsea,” and especially the intimate “I Remember Joe Brainard’s Cock Pics,” a piece as thoughtful as it is delightfully pornographic. A rumination on the body as well as the spirit, Saints of the Republic paints a frank portrait of both sides of that dichotomy as well as all points between.
limerance – Octavio R. Gonzalez (Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press)
As visceral as Chip Livingston, yet in a different way, Octavio Gonzalez’s limerance has its roots in the body but concerns itself more with the buildup and aftermath than the moment itself. Not that he never explores the right-now, but even the pieces which do so don’t linger there. Although all the pieces are interesting, my particular favorites are the prose poems “when i was little (ii)” and “begging for quarters,” which seem to have a sense of place you don’t often find in poetry. But Gonzalez also works well with transcience–the fleeting encounters in “shrink (i)” and “shrink (ii),” the reminiscence of “rooftop (i)” and “rooftop (ii),” the inherent longing of “love cycle,” the freedom and movement in “glide with you”–all of these are both enjoyable on their own but also as part of an indelible whole. limerance is a study in contrasts: ethereal yet earthy, static but in motion. It’s much like the cover–sharp focus in front of a hazy background.
The Old Ambassador and Other Poems – Wayne Courtois (Spartan Press)
It’s been too long since we heard anything from Wayne Courtois. His fiction and memoir always has a fresh point of view and impeccable follow-through, and his poetry is no exception, so I was anxious to dive into his latest, The Old Ambassador and Other Poems, which did not disappoint. As he’s primarily a fiction writer, Courtois’s work is often rooted in reality rather than imagery. His images are certainly telling, but he approaches them from a more grounded perspective, telling the reader what’s on his mind. And what’s on Courtois’s mind lately seems to be mortality, evident from the first piece, “When It Comes,” about the moment of death. He does approach other subjects such as the normalcy of gay couples, as in one of my favorites here, “Heteronormative Bar-B-Q Sandwich,” which illustrates the difference between a straight couple and a gay couple waiting in line for food, but the long centerpiece of the book, “The Old Ambassador” reeks of age, must, and death. A piece about the demise and refurbishment of an old hotel in Kansas City, Courtois’s current home base, it leaves plenty of room for thinking about finality as well as renewal and how to embrace both with equal fervor. It’s solemn yet hopeful, focusing on transition–as you can tell from the cover. Skilled and assured, The Old Ambassador and Other Poems is a welcome return from one of our finest writers.
And there we have the Spring Poetry Roundup–four great volumes that are sure to keep you thinking until the fall. We’re always looking for titles, so if you have something coming out this summer, please let us know at email@example.com.
What’s new with some of our favorite independent presses? We’ll try to answer that question on a monthly basis with our latest feature, beginning with April. There are some fine books here you should know about, and where better to find them than Out in Print? We’re all you need to read about all you need to read. If you are a publisher or self-publisher and would like to see your books featured here, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy reading!!
Being a former teacher, I’m always up for reading books about the profession, especially those which feature LGBT protagonists. Bywater Books also seems to love the topic, publishing a number of books about teachers, including Beowulf for Cretins (Ann McMan) and Testimony (Paula Martinac). But while both those books deal with adults teaching high school or college, books about elementary school teachers are rarer. Lydia Stryk’s The Teachers’ Room fills that gap nicely, providing an insightful and absorbing look at the lives of teachers without the complication of a distracting student body.
Karen Murphy is in her first year of teaching, taking on a fifth-grade class in a Midwestern school in 1963, but in addition to the challenges and rewards of dealing with her students, she finds she’s developing feelings for Esther Jonas, a fourth-grade teacher who already lives with a woman named Lee Anne. As their relationship deepens, they walk a fine line between professionalism and the carefree abandon of new love. When Jonas is outed by a fellow teacher, complications arise, and although Murphy is devastated, that act also begins her politicization.
Stryk is a former award-winning playwright attempting her first novel, which is evident by her dialogue–it crackles, moving the narrative along just quickly enough. It sounds true and spontaneous, both with adults and in her classroom interaction. And she captures that classroom dynamic beautifully, distilling the problem children we’ve all known down to Lydie, a headstrong yet creative free spirit with a penchant for making trouble. Is the author, Lydia, channeling her younger self? Only she knows for sure, but the portrait is both deft and sincere.
And Stryk is just as adept when dealing with her adult characters, especially Karen’s lover, Esther. She paints Esther as both desireable and mysterious, having an unnamed heartbreak in her background in Germany before coming to this country. The revelation there comes slowly, but it constantly influences how their relationship progresses, leaving Karen in a precarious affair of the heart. Esther can’t be totally Karen’s as she can’t be totally Lee Anne’s–or anyone’s, for that matter–until she works out her demons. Coming together seems hopeless, but Karen is determined to be the one who sees it to its logical conclusion with all the joy and heartbreak the journey has to offer.
Stryk sticks very closely to her timeline, including JFK’s assassination as well as the nascent civil rights movement, but she shines in her portrayal of the women in the Daughters of Bilitis meetings she attends. Those chapters dealing with her political coming of age are particularly poignant, combining the celebration of new-found freedom with the realization that she’s still bound by the age-old constraints of fear and the threat of crippling her own career by associating with other lesbians. Stryk walks this chalk line with delicacy and passion, driving Karen Murphy forward while simultaneously keeping her in check.
The Teachers’ Room is both rewarding and entertaining, giving us a fully rounded picture of closeted teachers in the early 60s both in terms of career and their private lives. The characters are spot-on, the plot is engaging, and it’s well worth your reading time. Move it up to the head of the class.
As regular readers of Out in Print know, Saints & Sinners is a yearly LGBTQ literary festival that takes place in New Orleans, and their short story contest produces some of the finest LGBTQ fiction collected. This 2023 edition is no exception. As with all short story collections, however, some tales will pique your interest more than others, but these anthologies have a particularly high batting average as far as I’m concerned. The contest this year was judged by Lambda Literary Award winning mystery author Michael Nava, who I’m sure had some difficult choices to make.
The winner of this year’s competition is Ariadne Blayde’s “Minor Difficulties In BigEasyWorld,” an interesting look at love between two boys working in a futuristic New Orleans theme park, the real thing having been destroyed by unnamed forces some years back. The park has neighborhoods like Bourbon Street and Storyville that tourists roam through drinking Hurricanes, Hand Grenades, and Voodoo Daquiris (which are the same thing in different collectible glasses), experiencing characters like Ambient Alcoholic, Upstairs Ghost, Jazz Musician, and Enslaved Person, all overseen by the Historical Truth and Reconciliation Coordinator. As a current NOLA tour guide, Blayde’s barbs hit with deadly accuracy, and the disconnect with reality is alarmingly real, but the facades and fakery never obscure the love story between teenagers Wes and Neal. Well-balanced and solidly constructed, this story is a delight.
Also set in New Orleans, but in the present rather than the future, is William Christy Smith’s charming “By Hook or By Crook,” which features one of those NOLA “characters” who seem to populate every block, this one a delicate antique collector named Bug DeCote. DeCote’s health is failing, and the members of his writing group are tasked with cataloguing, unbeknownst to him, the items in house to sell after his imminent demise. Also set in the South is J. R. Greenwell’s “Water Between My Legs,” an atmospheric and immersive story of a gay teen coming to terms with himself in small town Appalachia, a milieu Greenwell writes most comfortably about.
But there are wonderful stories here also taking place above the Mason-Dixon line. Powell Burke’s “Man In Sunglasses With Newspaper” is a Fire Island oriented look at pre-Stonewall gay life in that enclave as seen through the lens of a photographer named Harry. Slightly surrealistic, this story floats with a languorous intricacy bound to capture your imagination. Philip Gambone blends two Boston couples together, striking sparks of betrayal and jealousy in “Big Boy,” while John Whittier Treat takes a New York City couple to Broadway to see the Boys in the Band revival in “The Boys Not In The Band,” but he doesn’t let them sit together, creating some interesting tension.
For my money, however, the story which most captivated my attention was Eric Peterson’s “Banjo.” Like his “Little Boy Blue” from last year, it tugs all the right heartstrings only this time with a dog named Banjo who helps grief-stricken Arturo move forward through the death of his partner, Ben. The turn near the end of the story keys in to so many emotions, I ended up ugly-crying at Gate B7 in the Dallas airport on my way home from Saints & Sinners.
I’ve submitted to this anthology more than once in the twenty years of the conference but have never yet made it to finalist. Career goals, right? But I’ll try again this year and hope to find myself in company this fine in 2024. Wish me luck.
Finding Time Again is a new translation of the final volume of Marcel Proust’s classic epic novel In Search of Lost Time, the culmination of Viking Penguin’s new translation, begun in 2005, with each volume handled by a different translator. Translated by Ian Patterson, this volume follows Marcel as he observes the changes wrought by the Great War in his high society friends.
In Search of Lost Time has an intimidating reputation with its lengthy sentences and deep look at early twentieth century French society, but once you begin, it’s hard to stop. Patterson especially captures the language well here, which feels surprisingly easy to follow and almost addictive to read, drawing us further into the story. Plus, Marcel makes for an engaging narrator, giving us all the gossipy tidbits about the large cast of characters.
His candid discussions of homosexuals (or “inverts” as they were known back then), are simply amazing. He remembers his childhood friend Gilberte’s husband, Saint-Loup, who had a longstanding affair with the violinist Morel, and he wonders how much Gilberte knew and understood of Saint-Loup’s secret life. Later, he wanders into a hotel and accidentally spies on Baron de Charlus being chained and beaten by working-class men as part of his fetish. Afterward, the baron talks to the men, whom he’s paid to pretend are rough, dangerous criminals, and he gets offended when one of them forgets it and mentions a minor crime. Years later, Marcel encounters the baron again, now decrepit and lowered in society after Morel “outed” him, and another aristocrat denounced his German leanings. Still, according to his valet, the baron continues to chase after young men; in fact, during their conversation, the valet must intervene in the baron’s conversation with the gardener’s son.
It’s easy to forget how groundbreaking this was at the time, as American and English novels never talked about homosexuality so openly. Even E.M. Forster’s Maurice, which was written in 1913, wasn’t published until after his death in 1971. And it’s fascinating that while Proust himself was gay, Marcel comes across as fairly straight, although in the first volume, Swann’s Way, he seems smitten with Charles Swann.
There are plenty of other juicy, soap opera-like events. At an aristocrat’s party, where for the entertainment a young actress is reciting poetry, Marcel discusses another party across town, hosted by the actresses’ dying former rival, to which only one young man has shown up. In fact, her own daughter and son-in-law sneak away to the more popular party, where the younger actress, not actually the host, has them beg to see her as a way of humiliating her rival.
Marcel also makes profound observations about life and art. At the party, he’s surprised at how old everyone’s become. He takes a while to recognize friends he’s known for years, and he mistakes younger people for their elders. Walking over the paving stones to the party dredges up memories of his childhood, which he analyzes while waiting in the library. At the volume’s beginning, he thinks he doesn’t have the talent to be a writer, but by the end, he realizes he’ll finally work on his novel, with time as its subject.
For the full Proust experience, it’s probably useful to read the earlier volumes, to become familiar with the many recurring characters who frequently pop in and out. Indeed, early on, Gilberte talks about her perspective of a pivotal event in Swann’s Way. She sent a signal to the young Marcel at that time that he totally misinterpreted. But for being nearly a century old, and about a society that no longer exists, Finding Time Again feels almost contemporary and can certainly be read on its own. Endnotes for now-obscure figures and events, as well as a synopsis, are helpfully included at the end.