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Disobedienceby Jane Hamilton
Synopses & Reviews
From Jane Hamilton, author of the beloved New York Times bestsellers A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth, comes a warmly humorous, poignant novel about a young man, his mother's e-mail, and the often surprising path of infidelity.
Henry Shaw, a high school senior, is about as comfortable with his family as any seventeen-year-old can be. His father, Kevin, teaches history with a decidedly socialist tinge at the Chicago private school Henry and his sister attend. His mother, Beth, who plays the piano in a group specializing in antique music, is a loving, attentive wife and parent. Henry even accepts the offbeat behavior of his thirteen-year-old sister, Elvira, who is obsessed with Civil War
reenactments and insists on dressing in handmade Union uniforms at inopportune times.
When he stumbles on his mother's e-mail account, however, Henry realizes that all is not as it seems. There, under the name Liza38, a name that Henry innocently established for her, is undeniable evidence that his mother is having an affair with one Richard Polloco, a violin maker and unlikely paramour who nonetheless has a very appealing way with words and a romantic spirit that, in Henry's estimation, his own father woefully lacks.
Against his better judgment, Henry charts the progress of his mother's infatuation, her feelings of euphoria, of guilt, and of profound, touching confusion. His knowledge of Beth's secret life colors his own tentative explorations of love and sex with the ephemeral Lily, and casts a new light on the arguments-usually focused on Elvira-in which his parents regularly indulge. Over the course of his final year of high school, Henry observes each member of the family, trying to anticipate when they will find out about the infidelity and what the knowledge will mean to each of them.
Henry's observations, set down ten years after that fateful year, are much more than the "old story" of adultery his mother deemed her affair to be. With her inimitable grace and compassion, Jane Hamilton has created a novel full of gentle humor and rich insights into the nature of love and the deep, mysterious bonds that hold families together.
Disobedience takes forms great and small in Hamilton's new family drama. The Shaws have just left Vermont for Chicago. Kevin is an affable and optimistic high-school teacher. Beth is an accomplished pianist. Henry, Hamilton's complicated narrator, is a mild-mannered and lonely high school senior. And Elvira, his tomboy little sister (and the novel's most charismatic character), is a hard-core Civil War reenactor who disguises herself as a boy while on the field and wishes she was one. Henry has inadvertently opened his mother's e-mail and discovered that she's having an affair with a violin player who lives in a log cabin just over the Wisconsin border. This knowledge frightens, angers, and intrigues him since he is in the throes of his first passionate relationship. As Henry ponders the mysteries of love, sex, marriage, and duty, Hamilton subtly questions the very notion of disobedience. Should one disobey the heart's desires to protect others? Is any one person in the wrong when relationships run aground? Hamilton's characters are magnetic, their predicaments are unexpected and wholly absorbing, and her finely crafted prose is vivid and suspenseful, yet this novel runs like a car with a shimmy, and the problem is Henry. He narrates with just the sort of sarcasm a bright and sensitive teenager would employ, yet he's writing from an unspecified future date and, therefore, interjects his older self's more knowledgeable perspective in such a way as to blur rather than sharpen his persona. But perhaps this glitch only serves to highlight the truth implicit in this wise and funny tale: we must "come of age" many times over the course of a life, and it never gets any easier. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"...lovely, resonant...there will be much to discuss about the haunting if arbitrary way that Ms. Hamilton makes past and present, love and war, loyalty and treachery all intersect." Simeon J. Maslin, The New York Times
"This warm, wise, and often very funny book is a worthy successor to the acclaimed Map of the World and is recommended for all fiction collections." Library Journal
"The mysteries at the core of an adolescent boy's being are placed in a tender, precious light in Hamilton's latest triumph (The History of a Prince, 1998, etc.), which also poignantly portrays a mother torn between a lover's embrace and the family she's long called her own." Kirkus Reviews
A high school senior stumbles upon his mother's e-mail account and realizes that everything is not as it seems. He discovers his mother Beth, a piano player with a group that specializes in antique music, uses "Liza38" as her screen name, one he had given to her, and he finds out that she's having an affair with a violin maker. Unabridged. 5 CDs.
About the Author
Jane Hamilton is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Awardfor First Fiction, and A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the year. Both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World have been selections of Oprah's Book Club. Her most recent work, The Short History of a Prince, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998. She lives in Rochester, Wisconsin.
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