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American Studies [Hardcover]

Mark Merlis
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1994
A witty look at gay life over the last fifty years focuses on Reeve, a hospitalized sixty-two-year-old gay man, who thinks back to his college years and his troubled relationship with famed literary scholar Tom Slater. A first novel. Tour.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Handsome prose and the erotic undercurrent of pre-Stonewall gay life strengthen this intriguing first novel. While recuperating from a hustler's brutal beating, Reeve, a 62-year-old gay man, finds his attention split between lustful thoughts for his young, straight hospital roommate and memories of his college professor and mentor, Tom Slater (a character based on critic, author and Harvard professor F. O. Matthiessen, 1902-1950). Slater, known both for his seminar on American studies and (among the cognoscenti) for his closeted lifestyle, was both a homosexual and a member of the Communist Party. Several scenes reoccur throughout this novel--particularly those of Reeve's beating and a university president's destruction of Slater's career during the McCarthy era--though neither plot nor character is further illuminated after the initial revelations. In fact, the work relies heavily on supposition: Slater's life and downfall is reconstructed as Reeve imagines it to have happened. Though this method reveals Merlis's considerable talent, it fails to raise his main characters, both passive victims, to the historical status they are due. "He was so much a ghost that I couldn't touch him," Reeve says of Slater, who ultimately remains as much of an enigma as Matthiessen himself.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Reeve is lain up in the hospital after being beaten up by a man he picked up in a bar. As he recuperates, he considers his life to date, thus revealing to us the significant details. Reeve contemplates meticulously and mournfully on four levels: his flirtation with the handsome young straight in the next bed; the degradation and eventual suicide of his friend Tom Slater, a martyr to McCarthyism; his own beating by the hustler; and the outline of his life. Reeve is an uncommonly thoughtful and perceptive man; there is a wealth of feeling and literary knowledge in this work, surely one of the finest first novels to appear in many a moon. Its simple, noble, graceful prose refreshes the very language, and its unsquinting portrayal of gay men is searing and authentic. Merlis's novel belongs to the best of contemporary literature, gay or other. Recommended for most collections.
Brian Geary, West Seneca, N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Merlis' novel achieves all that historical fictions can do at their
best. Through the eyes of Reeves, a middle-aged, gay
bureacrat hospitalized after being brutally attacked in his
home, Merlis looks back on 50 years of gay life in America.
Merlis manages to make the past distinct enough to defamiliarize
his audience while enabling it to speak to contemporary concerns. As
Reeves composes his recollections of a relationship with a professor
whose sexual identity led to censure during the McCarthyite red
scare and ultimately to his suicide, we learn to recognize the
human tragedy of discrimination, an unfortunately (and seemingly)
timeless cost. The novel is not, however, glum, dreary, or overly
heavy. Reeves' wry humor and touching honesty balances the novel's
emotional weight.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic writing, poignantly storyline Aug. 4 1998
Format:Paperback
Merlis' story is so beautifully crafted, that it can be read just for the appreciation of the language alone. The literary device he uses takes him from the present, where he is recovering from a vicious attack from someone he brought into his home, to the past, where he ruminates on his first romantic involvement with an erudite, but inhibited professor, battling the McCarthyism of the Fifties. At the center of the dilemma is having to live in a world that has no tolerance, let alone respect, for age, individualism or political integrity. This is a rare treat. Compelling story, mesmerizing language. You'll laugh out loud at times and at times you'll have tears in your eyes. Watch this writer.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply one of the Best "Gay" Novels written Jan. 28 1999
Format:Paperback
There seldom comes into my reading life a book as fine as this one. I read a lot of books, and frequently try new authors being published for the first time. This book completely blew me away. The author has such a wonderful command of our language - using phrases and words to their best advantage. He exhibits such an intense ability to get inside his characters - to be able to give them feelings that are so easily conveyed to his reader. I laughed at times, I cried at times. This is one of those fine examples of books that you don't want to finish - you simply sigh at the end and wish for more.
Was this review helpful to you?
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Merlis brilliantly composes American Studies, but unfortunately, his character development comes to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle of the novel. Merlis goes from a fine story to some sort of a soap opera-esqe ending that leaves this reader cold.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Solid & Satisfying Read on Every Level Oct. 20 2004
By Owen Keehnen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
American Studies is a boldly crafted debut novel about gay generational changes and connections, betrayal and loyalty, moving ahead, and individual identity. The novel revolves around the theme of healing on several levels. Reeve is 62 and hospitalized after a severe beating by a hustler. He feels his sex life, his dignity, and everything he held sacred - those very things which defined him - are all gone. Over the four day span of this novel, Reeve gradually regains his footing, adapts, and rebuilds his life. Most importantly he recognizes that he is a survivor. Much of this realization occurs in his detailed reminiscing about Tom, an early mentor of his who killed himself when his exposure as a homosexual as well as his betrayal by a lover combined to undermine his world. Reeve also gets a renewed zest for life by the hunk in the adjoining hospital bed. American Studies is a book of incredibly strong characterization abundant in insights and displaying a skilled interweaving of stories. It also contains interesting gay history, a strong narrative, and even some great laughs along the way. Merlis has created a real gem!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic writing, poignantly storyline Aug. 4 1998
By harikrsna@sprintmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Merlis' story is so beautifully crafted, that it can be read just for the appreciation of the language alone. The literary device he uses takes him from the present, where he is recovering from a vicious attack from someone he brought into his home, to the past, where he ruminates on his first romantic involvement with an erudite, but inhibited professor, battling the McCarthyism of the Fifties. At the center of the dilemma is having to live in a world that has no tolerance, let alone respect, for age, individualism or political integrity. This is a rare treat. Compelling story, mesmerizing language. You'll laugh out loud at times and at times you'll have tears in your eyes. Watch this writer.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, harrowing tale of gay life over the past 50 years July 31 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Merlis' novel achieves all that historical fictions can do at their
best. Through the eyes of Reeves, a middle-aged, gay
bureacrat hospitalized after being brutally attacked in his
home, Merlis looks back on 50 years of gay life in America.
Merlis manages to make the past distinct enough to defamiliarize
his audience while enabling it to speak to contemporary concerns. As
Reeves composes his recollections of a relationship with a professor
whose sexual identity led to censure during the McCarthyite red
scare and ultimately to his suicide, we learn to recognize the
human tragedy of discrimination, an unfortunately (and seemingly)
timeless cost. The novel is not, however, glum, dreary, or overly
heavy. Reeves' wry humor and touching honesty balances the novel's
emotional weight.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply one of the Best "Gay" Novels written Jan. 28 1999
By Larry D. Herb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There seldom comes into my reading life a book as fine as this one. I read a lot of books, and frequently try new authors being published for the first time. This book completely blew me away. The author has such a wonderful command of our language - using phrases and words to their best advantage. He exhibits such an intense ability to get inside his characters - to be able to give them feelings that are so easily conveyed to his reader. I laughed at times, I cried at times. This is one of those fine examples of books that you don't want to finish - you simply sigh at the end and wish for more.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best of all gay novels July 26 2003
By Rick Whitaker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
American Studies, very sadly out of print at the moment (but surely not for long), is one of the great gay novels of the 20th century. Narrated by a gay man in hospital after being beaten by a trick, the novel tells the story of F.O. Matthiessen, a great American literary critic who committed suicide in 1950 after being outed and ostracized at Harvard, where he taught for more than twenty years. Most importantly, though, Merlis writes like an angel, every sentence beautifully made, charming, amusing, and moving. It is as perfect as a novel can be.
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