Book Review: David Leavitt’s The Page Turner

The Page TurnerThe Page Turner by David Leavitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decades ago, as a young gay man and an aspiring writer, I read ‘Family Dancing’, Leavitt’s collection of short stories, and then ‘Lost Language of Cranes’. I remember (even now) mixed emotions. I generally liked his writing, but not as much as some others (like Edmund White) and I was fascinated with how he seemed to be crowned as a successful gay writer, with his career launched after two books. I lost track of him after that, though I knew he kept writing, and recently picked up this book. As an interesting contrast, I’d been struggling through a lauded but heavy and long Norwegian novel, the Half Brother, and after reading ‘The Page Turner’, I decided that if Leavitt can write a pretty good story that I can finish in a day (I was travelling interstate, as they say here in Australia, and had some free time), that the amount of time and effort that I had put into the Norwegian novel, to only reach halfway without loving it, was not proportionate. I gave up. But that’s another review.

As I remember, Leavitt is a beautiful writer. I like the voice. I like the sentences. It is very, very readable, yet in a literary way. I also found the key theme interesting, in light of what I’ve said above: how does one choose a career? What if our talent doesn’t match our ambition? What is ‘genius’? It felt a deeply personal question, a way for Leavitt to ask where he fits into the canon of literature, as well as a good question for anyone else interested in the arts.

My problem though was that it felt so old-fashioned. I’m sure that his short stories and maybe the novel too had overbearing mothers, in the midst of marital breakdown. And while I know this book was published some 25 years ago, comparing this picture of gay life to today’s questions of identity among LGBTIQ people, seems quaint. Gay people are cultured (loving classical music). They tend to have relationships with partners with vast age differences. A prime concern is monogamy or lack of it. It did feel to me an old book. But being so easy to read, and with some lovely prose, it is hard to be too critical.

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