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[445] The Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt

” It was horrible, really, what I was feeling, the sense I had that I was running a terrible risk every minute of my life—risking my family, my career—but not being able to help it; somehow just not being able to help it. I was thinking every day how I had to change my life, how I couldn’t go on this way; but I knew the more I thought that, the farther I was getting from where I thought I should have been. ” (350)

Philip is the romantic, modest type: all he’s ever wanted is someone to settle down with. When he falls in love with Eliot, a charming young man for whom love and efforts of affection always come easy. Philip can’t help feeling doubt and anxiety about their relationship. He wants to be constantly reassured that Eliot reciprocates the affection and, above all, fidelity. Philip also realizes it’s time to come out to his parents, who he believes have the right to know the truth. He wishes to tell them because it’s beyond being gay—that it’s the life he has and that they are part of his life.

Owen closed his eyes and mouth tight against screaming, and the scream burst inside him . . . He remembered Rose’s expression, the pain in her eyes, the way she held her hands together on her lap . . . He wanted to comfort her, to reassure her; but how could he, when he was the source and cause of all her pain? No matter how much empathy he felt, he was what was hurting her, and it could not be stopped, even by him. (267)

Meanwhile, Owen and Rose are experiencing life changes of their own. Though living together in harmony, their interaction is no more intimate than that of a passing acquaintance. Own spends his Sunday afternoons in gay porn theaters, hoping he can be purged of a week’s pent-up sexual tension and libido. But he only becomes swept his growing desire. He experiences both lustful longing for men and repulsion at his actions. And there is guilt: he has lied to his wife and built a marriage with her on the basis of a sexual lie. Those secretive feelings for men he harbors neither go away nor nor fade over time. How naive that he thinks his marriage to a woman would cure him of homosexuality. The secret is thus buried, but even from underground it has its influence. As Owen blames himself for being an absent father to his gay son, his wife reflects on the numerous occasions in which she chose to avert her eyes, to draw ridiculous conclusions just so she wouldn’t have to face the truth.

Now, of course, she understood it all. He wanted her to guide him to the kind of life he longed to have, a family life, with children. But how could she have known that then? Homosexuality was a peculiarity to her, a condition to be treated in hospitals—not a way of life to be embraced or saved from. (315)

The Lost Language of Cranes is a perceptive novel about sexual identity and family. It poses the question about the relationship between who one is and whom one loves. Does a love object, particularly an unconventional one, confer identity upon the person who loves it (or him, or her?) For Philip. the answer is obviously affirmative. His sexuality, his attraction to men, is the most elemental force in his life, and to deny it, to pretend it isn’t there because he’s afraid what people would think would be a tragedy. The life Philip desperately wants to avoid is fully embraced by his father, whose erotic attraction to men never becomes real since the attraction does not translate into a love for one man or for particular men. His coming to terms with his sexuality is especially intriguing, as he and his family must confront the latent homosexuality. The novel brings into a sharp focus individual’s struggle toward a sense of self in a world where feeling love is a certainty even if being loved is not. It’s a beautiful novel that requires readers to read between the lines.

353 pp. Trade Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks for this. I’m very curious about the novel, as I like the television adaptation very much. I’m sure the novel is even richer.

    • I’m surprised you haven’t read this, his debut. I found the story of the father very gripping (maybe because he’s more of my type). The novel is written in third person narrative, revealing in natural arcs the history of the family.

  2. I read this in high school, but haven’t done so since then. Now that I much older, I think I would appreciate it a bit better.

  3. One of my favorite books of all time. And it was the first “gay film” I ever saw…when I was about 10 years old late at night on PBS. My parents had gone to bed and I remember turning the volume down and sitting close to the TV and just watching with such awe and curiosity. It was the defining moment when I knew what I was and that there were others out there like me. I wasn’t alone. I read the book years later and recalled that moment in life all over again. What a wonderful book!

    • Now you have lured me into recovering the PBS series. I have never seen the TV series or movie. It’s indeed a wonderful book about how people in different walks of their lives deal with homosexuality and just love. What does it mean to love?

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