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The Lost Language of Cranes

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  5,962 ratings  ·  270 reviews
When Philip falls in love with Eliot, he realizes it's time to come out of the closet to his parents, Owen and Rose. But they are experiencing life changes of their own. Owen spends Sunday afternoons in gay porn theaters, and when he and Rose are forced out of their long-time apartment, they must confront his latent homosexuality and their son's stunning admission. ...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published October 1st 1987 by Bantam (first published 1986)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  5,962 ratings  ·  270 reviews

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”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.”
[Owen Benjamin]

The Lost Language of Cranes is David Leavitt’s first novel and was publi
The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt is a perfect example of why one should push one’s self to complete a book once started, even if it is giving you trouble. I was going to dump this, but by the time I reached its end I had come to like it a lot!

The book’s central issue is the process of accepting and having the guts to speak out about one’s sexual identity when it diverges from the social norm. The book is set in the 1980s in NYC. The gay pride movement was gaining momentum having begu
Jan 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
What I admire about this novel is that Leavitt explores the significance in mundane details of the characters' lives. Grabbing a stranger's cock or fighting with a loved one is easy, but talking to those people takes immense courage. The characters find that opportunities come and go, and many aren't worth pursuing, and others can be created. I find their internal lives believable, and this book hooked me and kept me reading far too late for a few nights. But I wouldn't want to be any of the cha ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Lost Language of Cranes strikes me as effortlessly comprehensive in its portrayal of gay characters in different walks of life, but also an examination of other characters and tropes that have been staples of gay literature. In many ways, Cranes is a product of its time. The gay identity has certainly evolved a lot since the 1980s, and the struggle of the closet is much less at the forefront. However, this book remains a moving portrait of acceptance and passion. It tells the story of severa ...more
As far as I'm aware, this is Leavitt's first published novel, and it's an impressive effort. Leavitt's theme is that of many of his stories in Family Dancing - that is, family relationships from a specifically gay standpoint. In a way, you could analyze this novel down into a rather pedantic series of illustrative dissertations on possible varieties of family response: there's Jerene, the black lesbian whose parents have entirely disowned her; there's Eliot, brought up as the adopted son of a se ...more
Nov 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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Today is World AIDS Day. Since AIDS was first really recognized in the early 80s I think the numbers have reached over 25 million deaths. Pretty staggering when you think about it, and when you think about all the lives that have been touched in some way by this pandemic. It's not just about the big names you see on the news. It's about their families too, the ones you don't see on TV. It's about people in your neighborhood who could also be sick. It could be about just anyone. Frie
A story of family and friends coming to grips with who they are and redefining their lives in the process.

These have to be some of the most real, vivid characters I've ever encountered in a novel. Really incredible. So why didn't I give the book 5-stars? I just wasn't compelled or all that interested in the story until about 2/3 of the way through the book.

If you love great, interesting, complex and evolving characters, this is the book for you. If you need a bit more plot, maybe not.

I also wond
John Anthony
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Set in New York in the 1980s, the central character, Philip, is gay. He comes out to his parents. At that time, neither Philip, nor his mother Rose, realises that Owen, husband and father, is also gay.

Interesting character drawings and sketches of relationships. The importance of the family unit is central to the main story with the acceptance/rejection of the child and lifestyle. Rose is perhaps the best drawn character in the book and the one who evokes the most sympathy. Cold and rather self
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've kept this on my shelves for a long time, never really feeling in the right mood to read it as I somehow expected the book to be too keen on political correctness, to centred on the homosexual theme everyone knows about when purchasing this book, and I also kind of thought it'd be too eighties. I don't know where these ideas came from, and I'm so glad that I was completely wrong.

The Lost Language of Cranes is one of the most engaging books I've read in a while with characters that are so psy
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I reread this book to kick off spring break. It is as gorgeous and moving as I remembered. Lost Language of Cranes centers on the lives of Owen, Rose, and their son Philip. While this book is on its face a story about coming out, it is also a book about find love. In my reread, I was again smitten by the character Jerene, a graduate student. Jerene studies lost languages for her dissertation, though that too is a language she loses when she drops out. Leavitt writes about Jerene learning about a ...more
Bill Silva
I can imagine this novel was more groundbreaking and compelling when it was originally published in 1986--but it seems very dated today in 2020. Leavitt awkwardly attempts to up the literary significance of his story with his frequent ponderings about language--but this is basically a domestic drama centering on some mostly whiny characters who engender little sympathy or interest. For a period piece, it has some value--but we seem so far from that time in so many ways.
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
an excerpt, when Rose realized his husband is gay:

But how could she have know 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. She had marched down the aisle, and now it seemed to her ironic that she should have seen in Owen's face assurance,a sign that she was aking the right decision, when in fact she was making the first and largest of a series of mistakes that would carry her out into her life like an
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-list-books
After reading the blurb for this one, I was a bit concerned that I was setting myself up for the Manhattan Hollinghurst. Luckily, this wasn't the case. There's none of the pretentiousness in Leavitt's writing, he's a straight forward, but evocative writer, and the whole book had more humanity in the first 20 pages than the whole of the damned Swimming Pool Library. It is guilty of being overly romantic in the odd place, and the ghoulish spectre of AIDS feels old fashioned, which is enitrely not ...more
May 24, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe only 3.5,because I didn't get as emotionally invested as I thought I should. It's a unique family drama as mother, father and son struggle with their disconnect, stemming largely from sexual preferences. Owen and Phillip are both gay men, but at completely different places in terms of acceptance. Rose needs to figure out how/if to accept either her husband or her son's homosexuality. All of this is set against the onslaught of AIDS in New York City. It's an era I know, and one that affecte ...more
Kevin Rainford
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book when I was in my early 20s, when I was the son Phillip’s age. Now I’ve reread it as I’ve reached my mid 50’s, Owen the fathers age. It made me recollect how much I connected to the son and how this novel gave me hope for love. I still love this book and am so thankful that I was lucky enough to live a life of truth unlike Owen who was only able to reveal himself at my age.
Feb 27, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a coming of age story for two men who are father and son, both of them gay. The book proceeds to tell how the son, Philip, finds the courage to tell his parents about his sexual orientation now that he has a special man in his life, while the father, Owen, lives in a state of denial about his own sexual preferences, hiding it from his wife and son, though he grows more careless of his secret as the book wears on. The story takes place in the 1980's, so it is rather dated. Though I suspec ...more
Rob Walter
I always find it hard to review a two-star book, because the inevitable question is 'well why did you read it?' I read this because it was sort of hinted to me that Leavitt is a kind of American Alan Hollinghurst. However, his writing lacks the grace and style of Hollinghurst, and his characters lack the depth and complexity.

Essentially this is a book about miserable people written in lifeless prose. As a contrast, I'm reading Howard Jacobson at the moment, who writes about miserable people with
Dec 31, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is part of the gay fiction canon but it feels more like an artifact than a story that will be lovingly read and re-read for years.

Public opinion on homosexuality has shifted dramatically since the late 1980s, so that's part of it. Without the whiff of judgment and scandal that must have made this book interesting to people back then, it's a pretty pedestrian read. The characters are thinly sketched, and some scenes feel as predictable as an after-school special. Too much exposition, p
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this all in a night, sucked in by the really beautiful prose and dead-on description of New York a little before I lived there but very recognizable. It's about a family whose son and father both come out as gay at about the same time, and all the men in the book are very artfully drawn. Little disappointed about the mother, Rose, who is a shrill caricature, but other than that, extremely well done. ...more
Jan 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finally getting around to reading some of the books that were hot when I was coming's very interesting to read this now, at 45, and draw the parallels of my younger gay years with Phillip's. Something comforting about reading this all these years later, that the endless 'drama' has subsided. :-) ...more
This is the second novel I'm reading from a list of recommendations I stumbled upon a couple years ago from Hanya Yanagihara, the dear author of my favourite book for ever and ever, A Little Life. I can see the reason for her recommendation: brutally honest dialogue, Woolf-esque narration, and uncomfortably human set pieces impossible to turn away from.

This queer novel from 1986 merges literature of the closet with an adult coming-of-age narrative. The rotating multiple character perspectives a
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an incredible book to launch my 2014 reading! First published in 1986, The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt is an intense, powerful, well-written study of an intellectual middle-age couple and their grown son. Set in Manhattan in the 1980's, each of the three main characters has kept secrets from one another for a long time, and the story traces the need to finally reveal those secrets and the consequences each faces for doing that.

Rose and Owen Benjamin have been married for twenty
Ian  Cann
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoughtful moving novel about homosexuality, relationships, secrets and desires. Although I'm not familiar with the 1980s NYC that the book plays out in with the backdrop of Aids, there was a real sense of place and time, especially when Leavitt talks about gentrification and things moving on, & the brutal ugliness of homphobia is not shirked and emphasized front and centre is the courage needed to say aloud and come to terms with who one is and who one loves.

Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...
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Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly a literary beauty! An expertly woven tale that leaves you feeling invested in each character’s life. In fact, one might argue that the designation of a “main character” depends heavily upon who you identify with most, a feat that makes this book even more intricate and mesmerizing.
Infamous Sphere
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want good gay lit
Recommended to Infamous by: emma
Shelves: lgbtqi
The literal only problem was this book was the frequent use of the word "lover" ...more
Christina Stind
"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 i
Oct 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a wonderful book. Great style, hard theme, easy read. ...more
Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL

To think! A world where the Upper West Side is 'gentrifying!' Before my time, before my time...

David Leavitt's 'The Lost Language of Cranes' gives its reader a seamlessly gorgeous story from start to finish. It contains characters that are impossible not to invest emotion with, despite their flaws. Like all good books, Leavitt takes no simple view on 'human nature', instead painting a vast, multigenerational picture of attitudes towards honesty and sexuality—but most importantly, languages of
Suzanne Moore
I guess this book can be considered controversial because it deals with homosexuality and “coming out.” Because exposing your sexual preferences when you are in the minority is so taboo, there is bound to be a controversy. The story revolves around a family and the secrets kept by father and son. Philip, the 25 yr-old son, decides to confess his love for another man to his parents. This is a brave act, because he doesn’t know how they will react to the news. But he is tired of hiding his lifesty ...more
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Leavitt is a graduate of Yale University and a professor at the University of Florida, where he is the co-director of the creative writing program. He is also the editor of Subtropics magazine, The University of Florida's literary review.

Leavitt, who is openly gay, has frequently explored gay issues in his work. He divides his time between Florida and Tuscany, Italy.

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