I finally read Grief by Andrew Holleran. It’s a novel about a middle-aged gay man who has recently lost his mother, a woman he meticulously cared for until her death. Feeling that he lacks direction now his mother is gone, he takes on a temporary job teaching in Washington, D.C. He lives near Dupont Circle with a man we only know as the landlord.
I had heard of Holleran because he’s a creative writing professor at American University and the MFA students buzzed about this wonderful teacher. I knew I was getting a good novel and I was right. This is a well-written novel with some great descriptions of people and settings. The narrator brought up people that I remember, such as the man who protests in front of the Vatican embassy. Even the descriptions of the houses in the Dupont area are spot on. The narrator’s explanations of Washington, D.C. as a city were well executed. It’s such a hard city to describe, even to natives.
In addition to the descriptions of our nation’s capitol, I enjoyed how the narrator’s interest in Mary Todd Lincoln’s mourning fits into the story. He comes across a book of her letters written after the President’s death. There’s a clear juxtaposition done between the narrator and Mrs. Lincoln.
I know I should love this book. I have friends who have told me how they loved this book. I feel a little guilty that I didn’t have the exact same reaction. While it is a touching story about loss, it becomes a bit too depressing. (I admitted that to a friend, who responded, “Well yeah, just look at the title!”) I expected to see flashbacks from the narrator’s memories with his mother, something that would make her more involved in the grief. I had hoped to see some moments of joy (not a whole lot; just some). But maybe its purpose was to be a vignette of the temporal feeling the narrator has as he takes a break from his home in Florida and lives in Washington, D.C. for a semester, dealing with his mother’s death. This is not a novel for those individuals who need more dramatic action, but it is a novel where one can revel in the words and the resulting ennui.