Christina's Reviews > The Lost Language of Cranes

The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt
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's review
Sep 30, 12

bookshelves: 2010, 1001-books-combined-edition, fiction, 1001-books-2006-edition, 1001-books-2008-edition, 1001-books-2010-edition, library
Read from November 23 to 26, 2010, read count: 1

"It was true that it had not been a great marriage. It had not even been a particularly good marriage. But it had been her life."
Sometimes, a lousy marriage is to be preferred rather than abandoning it and living on your own. And if your marriage isn't lousy but just sad and lonely, then the decision is even harder to make.
Owen and Rose are a middle-aged couple living in an appartment in New York, an appartment they are about to loose. They have a son, Philip. Philip is gay and has been hiding it from his parent for a long time. But then suddenly he finds himself in love with Eliot and decides to share it with his parents since he now has something happy to show them. Unfortunately, Eliot breaks up with him before Philip can introduce him to his parents and this throws Philip into a period of heavy grieving and sadness, only matched by the sadness experienced by his parents, struggling with their own problems, both with their appartment but especially with Rose's slowly realisation that Owen is gay as well, a fact that Owen has lived with all his life and concealed for Rose.
This is a beautifully written book about relationships between family but also between friends and how it's sometimes (often) easier to share your innermost feelings and longings with strangers, rather than with the people who are supposed to be the closest to you.
It's also a book about coming out and how different the coming out experience can be. Eliot - who only had to come out if it was to come out straight. Jelene - who came out and was disowned by her family. Philip who comes out to his parents and throw their entire existence into chaos. Philip's coming out scene is just so heartbreaking that it's almost unbearable. Leavitt has a profound ability to write real characters facing real life problems, living in sad and nostalgic circumstances and having to make choices.
Most of all, this is a book about loneliness and how to come to terms with it, learn to live with whatever life has brought you - but also that happiness can be achieved and sometimes found in the most unlikely places.
This was also my first experience reading gay fiction. Well, maybe it's wrong to call it gay fiction. Yes, there are men having sex and details of this are explicit. But this isn't something out of the ordinary in the lives of these people (well, except in Rose's) and the life experiences are of course mostly the same, whether you're gay or not (except for the coming out of course, and some straight people have to come out as well).
If you are a duck, then you model your behaviour on the first thing you see. If it's a human, then that human is momma duck and you try to behave like that human does. If you're a poor lost boy with no decent parents, then you do the same. And if the only thing you have to model, is a crane, well, then you become the Crane-Child - and what you shared with the cranes will forever be lost when you are taken away from the cranes. The Lost Language of Cranes. Now what does this mean?
Does it mean that being gay is something you mimic? At least that's true to the extent that you learn from what you see. But even though both Eliot and Philip have gay fathers, I don't feel like that's Leavitt's point. What he's trying to do, I think, is show all the faces of being gay. And also in some ways the history of being gay. How it has evolved from being something shameful you had to hide to something that is just as normal as every other form of human existence. I think he is trying to show how the attitudes toward gays and being gay has changed, well illustrated by the enormous difference in Owen's and Philip's situations.
The Lost Language of Cranes. A perfect example of how things that are perfectly normal to one person, seems weird and maybe even wrong to other persons. Now I'm not saying that being gay is the same as being a poor little mistreated boy who thinks he's a crane - just that he was happy being what he was and when others interfered, he became unhappy. So although I'm not at the moment able to completely express what it is I think Leavitt is saying - or at least not express it very eloquently - basically it all comes down to this: Let others find their own bliss, be supportive of their choices and first and foremost - be open!
I really liked the book - I think Leavitt is a very powerful writer in conveying emotions (sadness, loss, bewilderment etc) and I really felt for these characters. Although Philip at times just had me shaken my head for his way of handling his relationship with Eliot - but we've all been there, haven't we, been so much in love with someone and making a fool of ourselves to try and get them or keep them even though we know deep down it's never going to happen ...
I really felt sorry for Owen - living his entire life with this secret and being more and more unhappy and lost, trying desperately to find a way to lead a tolerable existence.
I'll stop talking (writing) now and if the above didn't make sense, just go read the book. It's amazing!

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Reading Progress

11/23/2010 page 28
8.0% "So far I have high hopes for this one!"
11/24/2010 page 51
16.0% "This one is really good! It has a certain melancholic feeling about it, especially when describing the middle-aged couple, Rose and Owen, and how their lives have turned out, leaving them almost as strangers."
11/24/2010 page 83
26.0% "End of part one. So far this really gets me. 5 stars."
11/24/2010 page 117
37.0% "These people are just so lost..."
11/26/2010 page 261
82.0% "The coming out scene was heartbreaking. The crane-kid ditto. Just loving this book. Definitely need to check out more books by this author!"

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