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[102] The Page Turner – David Leavitt

page.jpgThe book is a bit short for its scope. Or maybe I read it too quickly, started at the gate and finished it during the 5-hour flight to Hawaii.

Paul Porterfield loves to play piano and aspires to have a solo performance at Carnagie Hall. At eighteen, he makes a debut at such a grand venue, except that he’s page-turning for his artistic idol Richard Kennington, a renowned pianist on the cusp of middle age. Their brief encounter at the concert left an indelible mark on Kennington, who during the course of his performance fantasizes about Paul.

Shortly after, on vacation in Rome with his recently divorced mother, Pamela, Paul encounters the pianist a second time. In the absence of his manager and lover Joseph Man sourian, a love affair quickly sparkles between the two, like a violent reaction of a poison, with a demand of sexual passion that leave them both craving and exhausted. Complicated by his own insecurity (whether his fame or personality attracts the young man) and when Pamela misconstrues his attention toward her son as a sign of interest in her, Kennington withdraws to a safer region and flies back to New York.

The novel is not concerned with his characters’ sexual activities, but their human and emotional needs. The entangled relationship between Paul, Kennington, his partner and another man not only explores the question of why people cannot have what they want but also a deeper, more far-fetching question that life sometimes pivots: who do we really want, in life, in career, and in relationship? The characters all seem to live in dreamy illusions that cause them pain.

The Page Turner is an emotionally written novel that depicts a young man’s coming to terms to harsh reality of relationship. It’s hard to know what Leavitt’s message is, apart from the sentimentally obvious. “Don’t have any illusions about pain,” Paul’s piano teacher has told him. “Only a child believes that joy is infinite and suffering is short.” Through the unrequisited love, one might learn to be self-protective, to get on in the world and not expect too much out of love, for it’s unreliable.

One Response

  1. I bought a few David Leavitt books at my favorite used bookstore when I was home for the holidays; I think this one was included in the bunch.

    I haven’t read the book, but I enjoyed the movie. I got the impression that Paul affected Kensington in a way that disturbed the older man. Perhaps it was the vulnerability that the feeling provoked in him. In the end, both Kensington and his partner used Paul.

    What stayed with me most about the story was Paul’s recognition that in spite of his desire to be the best pianist, it would never be. I found this realization and his acceptance of it to be gut wrenching.

    In the end, I think the story is really about the how mothers must accept the fact that their sons must pull away from them and discover how to build upon these changes to achieve a different kind of intimacy.

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