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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "But love or something is not only deaf, but mute", 17 Aug 2004
This review is from: A Seahorse Year (Hardcover)
Set in a trendy, latte drinking enclave of San Francisco, A Seahorse Year is an absolutely beautifully written novel that tackles the subject of mental illness from a pretty unique point of view. By portraying a strikingly contemporary family - two lesbian mums and a gay dad - D'Erasmo has probably single handedly discounted many of the myths associated with gay and lesbian parenting. If nothing else, A Seahorse Year indomitably shows that gay and lesbian parents are really not that different from straight parents.
The subject of teenage mental illness is the focus of this story with the narrative centering around five main characters. Christopher, Nan and Hal's teenage son is mentally ill and has recently gone missing. Nan and Hal are both gay and live separately, but are unequivocally devoted to Chris, each sharing parental responsibility. Nan's longtime partner, Marina, has been having an affair with Shiloh, a younger woman and is unable to break away from Shiloh but also unable to stay with her. Hal meets Dan and Dan forces Hal to come to terms with a middle age that seems miles away from his promiscuous past as a member of the glam-rock band Venus Flytrap. Neither parent is prepared for the discovery that Christopher has developed an acute case of schizophrenia.
The only person who seems to understand Christopher is his classmate and girlfriend, Tamara, but even this unique rapport - via the music of PJ Harvey - does not offer shortcuts to treatment and healing. The fragile family must find ways to cope, but each member encounters many stretches of solitude - told via internal monologue - between sporadic moments of connection. Nan feels as though she's spent her whole life "crashing into dark forests after love. She alone has done the questing and the tracking." And as the story goes on, she realizes that Christopher is endurably her life and her passion. Hal has a conservative streak and is devoted to his profession but he questions his success as a father, while also wondering about his ability to settle down with a man such as Dan. Marina is relegated to the periphery of the group - "an unhappy, bored and cruddy person," unable to help Chris or communicate with Nan, she seeks solace in the arms of Shiloh. Chris is isolated with his illness, and is finally institutionalized by his parents "living in two elements at once: the now and the possible."
At first glance, A Seahorse Year may seem steeped in melodramatics, but in reality, the novel has a psychological complexity and a lyrical beauty, which yields no easy answers on the questions of love and family dysfunction. There's also the deeper theme of the transformation of the counterculture: San Francisco, the city of free love becomes the city of the bourgeois as parents Hal and Nan act and react to Chris's illness just like a conventional married straight couple. D'Erasmo alternatively dips into the rich inner lives of the five characters, and, at times, this causes the narrative to become a little cluttered. But generally, the author manages to offer strong voices with insights into the nature love and acceptance that are emotionally spot-on. Aside from trees, oceanic imagery permeates the novel, as if the sea creatures, including seahorses, can offer humans more delicate models for understanding and empathy. Mike Leonard August 04.
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A Seahorse Year
A Seahorse Year by Stacey D'Erasmo (Hardcover - 1 July 2004)
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