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