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The Short History Of A Prince [Paperback]

Jane Hamilton
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 1999

Walter McCloud was constantly eclipsed by those around him - his beautiful, talented friends, his flamboyant relatives, his golden-boy brother, Daniel. He was always the outsider, never the star. But the summer of 1972 was a turning point in the life of fifteen-year-old Walter. It was the time when he realized that his great passion for dance would never be matched by his talent; the time when he discovered the funny agony of first love' and the time when he watched his brother declining into a cruel, untimely death.

It is only when, twenty-four years later, Walter returns to fight for the survival of his childhood Eden, his family's lakeside summer home, that he finally discovers a way to reconcile himself to the past in a way that gives hope for the future.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (1 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055299801X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552998017
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,273,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

As a teenager in Oak Ridge, Illinois, Walter McCloud is desperate for adventure, hoping for love and success as a dancer. "If life for Walter was composed in part of confusion, shame and deception, the ballet was order, dignity and forthright beauty." In 1995, at 38, nothing has turned out as he had expected. Having spent years working in a dollhouse shop in New York and engaging in that city's ready sexual excitement, Walter finally returns to his Midwestern roots, accepting a teaching job in Otten, Wisconsin--a place that might have little to recommend it save its proximity to his family's summer home. ("It had taken Walter several years to admit to himself that he couldn't go on indefinitely selling Lilliputian Coke bottles and microscopic toilet-roll dowels.") In this new community, he will have to keep his head down, a stance that has long suited him, because he prefers to hold one memory of lost intimacy and perfection in high, private relief.

Walter's exile, or new start, allows memory to come to the fore, particularly that painful year in which his brother was dying of Hodgkin's and he and his fellow dancers were dying for experience. Jane Hamilton explores the distance between desire and reality, satisfaction and secrecy, irresistibly alternating between past and present. At first, we can't wait for Walter to break through and it's tempting to race through her prince's history--one which is, happily, not that short. But to do so would be to miss out on Hamilton's fine major and minor characters and her exploration of competition, complicity and silence. At one point, Walter fears that his pupils have "no clue that there was pleasure to be found in observing character. They seemed to be afraid to look around themselves and find a world every bit as amusing, ridiculous and unjust as Dickens's London..." Hamilton's readers, however, will find this pleasure in abundance


A moving, eloquent novel about the subtleties of family relationships. (Mail on Sunday )

Funny, thoughtful and exhilarating. (Harpers & Queen )

This compelling novel deserves great acclaim . . . Witty, transcendent, brilliant. (Red )

Vivid and moving, and often very funny. (Kate Atkinson )

Jane Hamilton is one of a handful of great American novelists - all women - to have emerged in the past decade . . . One of the most profound writers we now have. (The Times )

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Than a Story About a Boy From a Small Town 30 Jan 2001
By A Customer
Walter McCloud is boy who has had to suffer the suppression and unjust treatment of living in a small community. Then why does he move to a small community to live when he's older? In an age where urbanisation seems to be the only safe-haven for gay men Walter is trying to achieve a normalcy amidst a world that has pre-labelled him abnormal. But it is not a gay-story (though that is a big part of the story). It is a tale of a young man trying to find his place in society and in his own family. Small town life is a major theme of Ms Hamilton's. What I think she is trying to get at is a desire of people in society today to achieve a state of normalcy that is almost a parody of what the ideal notion of normal is. It's trying to act and live in a way that is domestic and provincial in the face of a world that is continually pushing toward globalisation.
The touching thing about Walter is that he has experienced many feelings that so many of us can relate to. The scenes between he and his brother dying of Hodgkin's Disease are some of the most intimate because the feelings portrayed are layered with hate and love. Also his secret desire for his childhood best friend is moving for anyone who has experience unrequited love. Sometimes the movement in time and range of characters will threaten to make you lose your place in the narrative, but the relationships Walter shares with others strike me a truly complex in his desire to leave them and become them simultaneously.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed the story, disliked the protagonist 19 Aug 2012
By hshm
There was so much I liked about this novel, which makes it more unfortunate that the protagonist, Walter, is so impossible to like.
I really don't think Jane Hamilton gets the 'voice' quite right.
She chooses to write about a middle-aged homosexual man, so she resorts to forcing him to drink expensive red wine, have seedy sexual encounters, and a job selling miniature dollhouse furniture! He is also disdainful of everyone else, even his friends, his sister and his dying brother, selfish, arrogant...... the list of unpleasant adjectives goes on.
I understand that the character is intended to have made mistakes, and to have regrets about his earlier life, but fewer cliches and a little more imagination, and we might just have cared about whether he finds his redemption in the end or not.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Alright - but... 10 Dec 2011
The book deals with some big issues and complex ideas, but is overall a disappointment. The main characters are too dull, verging on self obsessed. The ending seems somewhat contrived.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  73 reviews
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captures character and milieu beautifully 30 Jan 2000
By Bruce E. Henderson - Published on
While this is a somewhat unorthodox basis for a review, I'd like to state that I went to high school with Jane Hamilton and knew the people who were the basis for Walter, Mitch, and Susan. I respect readers who found the book a departure from Hamilton's technique and usual settings (3rd person, male-centered, suburban rather than 1st person, female-centered, rural) and who found Walter a difficult character to like. At the same time, less in the spirit of a review than in clarification, I can say that the man who was the basis for Walter was charming and vulnerable, while also being self-centered, and he did talk exactly the way Hamilton has him talk in the novel. Further, the assumption that Hamilton doesn't understand the nuances of a gay man does seem provincial to me--should Flaubert not have written "Madame Bovary," then? And those readers who use their own heterosexuality as an excuse for not liking the book--well, that reflects your own limitations more than Hamilton's or the book's. I found this book more of a struggle than her earlier ones--domestic violence and child death/abuse are more engaging topics for the majority of readers, weened on Oprah and Sally Jessy, et. al., than the struggles of a gay boy in search of self. But it finally is worth the effort--and I think Hamilton's enormous insight and empathy achieves a depth of feeling for Walter lacking in most Gen-X fiction by gay men I have read. And I will say this--I know one young man this book gave enough courage and self-reflection to to permit him to come out to himself and those around him. Does this make it great literature? Of course not--but it should make us think before we simply dismiss it because it doesn't immediately connect with the lives of middle-class housewives who all too willingly want only fiction that allows them to see themselves as victims or fairy tale heroines.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best novel I have read in years 26 Nov 1999
By A Customer - Published on
After finishing The Short History of a Prince, I have been ruined for other novels for a long time. I still feel like I'm living Walter's life with him. I felt close to almost all of the characters. Jane Hamilton worked magic with that book.
I am usually the type of person who stops reading novels if they are not up to my standards, or if they bore me. I could not put this book down. I lost sleep over it.
For many of you who felt that the characters were not real enough for you, I have to say that I suspect that your comments and attitudes reveal your homophobia. I mean, if we all read literature with characters who were similar to ourselves, we wouldn't have much to read at all! It made my heart soar to experience the "coming of age" of a homosexual character, and to read about love between partners of the same sex.
My recommendation to everybody is to open your minds a bit, and allow yourselves to experience beauty.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful character studies 31 July 1999
By L. Blumenthal - Published on
Unsuual characters, the kind you meet everday but never really think about, populate this amazing slice-of-life novel. For the reviewers who didn't get the point, I say "Look around you. Look at the people you think you understand. What stories do they hide deep in their souls?"
It's not just Hamilton's study of a gay man that wins my respect but her dead-on look at a woman (Susan) who can be cruel and self-centered while she is a loving a true friend. Or the neighbor who is a health-food freak and a chain smoker. Or the bi-sexual lover (Mitch) who can enter a gay relationship and then suddenly drop it like yesterday's newspaper. All of this is so real, so true to the way people really are.
This is a marvelously sensitive book full of humor and little truths that will have you nodding your head as you read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More relatable than Ruth 13 Mar 2002
By Michelle McDowell - Published on
Without question, Jane Hamilton is one of my favorite authors (who could not be moved by "The Book of Ruth"?), but in "A Short History of a Prince", Hamilton rises to a new level of exquisite characterization. Hamilton's graceful lyricism is present as always, rendering the book a charming read whether or not you enjoy the plot - but it is nearly impossible not to do so. Anyone who has every participated in the arts, or at least coddled an impossible dream, can relate to the plight of Walter. In a world in which, tawdry, but uplifting "feel good" books crowd the shelves it is refreshing to read of one who struggles with a dream, fails to achieve it in the physical sense, and yet triumphs internally. Hamilton gently reminds us that true grace lies in humanity and true achievement in how we deal with others. It is a novel about subjects far deeper than dance and far more human than death. It is a novel about life.
Hamilton is a master of characterization. Ruth Grey and Matt (of "The Book of Ruth") are prime examples. But it is the character of Walter that stands out in my mind. He is one of the most fulfilling gay characters I've encountered in literature, proving once and for all, that literature with a gay central character, need not be soley concerned with sex and relationships. Instead, Walter is a complex, lovable and slightly pathetic (in a good way, mind you) man who must deal with the real life tragedies of death in the family and unfulfilled dreams.
I enjoyed "A Short History of a Prince" far more than "The Book of Ruth" for several reasons. Partly because it was slightly easier to digest in its general lack of violence and dismal poverty, but mostly because I found Walter to be a character closer to my heart and self. I am not a gay man, but I felt more kinship with Walter than with Ruth. He is less specific than Ruth, more middle class, artistic and introspective. In short, he is me.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly ambitious 17 May 2000
By "sweetrachel" - Published on
I had the privelige of meeting Jane Hamilton at my school in April and hearing her read from the book she will be releasing this fall. At that point I hadn't read anything of hers and my friends said this was the most disappointing of her work, but I am amazed by it. How brave of her to write from this point of view. She has the skill of pointing out base truths about people, and her skill in developing characters just as much as they need to be developed shows that she knows where to hold back. I always found myself wanting to see more of Daniel, but relegating him to the back shows that the story is about Walter and how he deals with the people and circumstances around him. A lesser writer would take advantage of the opportunity to dramatize Daniel's illness and suffering. Hamilton's diction is at sometimes thick, but always humorous and true. Altogether, this book follows an intriging path through the 70's and the 90's that knows where to start and stop with character development, plot, and time.
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