4 cassettes / 4 hours Read by Robert Sean Leonard "Jane Hamilton has removed all doubt that she belongs among the major writers of our time." --San Francisco Chronicle Set in Jane Hamilton's signature Midwest, The Short History of a Prince is the story of Walter McCloud and his ambition to become a great ballet dancer. With compassion and humor, and alternating between Walter's adolescent and adult voices, the novel tells of Walter's heartbreak as he realizes that his passion cannot make up for the innate talent that he lacks. Introduced as a child to the genius of Balanchine and the lyricism of Tchaikovsky by his stern but cultured aunt Sue Rawson, Walter has dreamed of growing up to shine in the role of the Prince in The Nutcracker. But as Walter struggles with the limits of his own talent and faces the knowledge that Mitch and Susan, his more gifted friends, have already surpassed him, Daniel, his older brother, awakens one morning with a strange lump on his neck that leads to fearful consequences--and to Walter's realization that a happy family, and a son's place in it, can tragically change overnight. The year that follows will in fact transform the lives not only of the McClouds but also of Susan, who becomes deeply involved with the sick Daniel, and Mitch, the handsome and supremely talented dancer with whom Walter is desperately in love. Into this absorbing narrative Hamilton weaves a place of almost mythical healing, the family's summer home at Lake Margaret, Wisconsin, where for generations the clan has gathered on both happy and unhappy occasions. Only a writer of Jane Hamilton's sensitivity and humanity could do justice to this moving story of the torments of sexuality and the redemptive power of family and friendship. This book confirms her place as a preeminent novelist of our time.
The Short History of a Prince provides two points of entry into Walter McCloud’s life. Half of the chapters are set in 1972-73 when Walter is a high school student taking ballet lessons and dealing with his older brother’s serious illness. Interspersed with those chapters are chapters set in 1995-96 when Walter has recently moved to Otten, Wisconsin to teach high school English. At both points in his life, Walter faces identity challenges. As a teenager, he seems to be losing his footing. His family is rocked by his brother’s illness, and Walter loses an important foundation due to the frequent absences of his parents. His relationship with his friends and his involvement in ballet also shift during this year. Plus, he has his first homosexual relationship. In middle age, Walter is still trying to negotiate who he is (though with a bit more wisdom than before). He moves from New York City to Otten and faces the possible loss of a lakeside house that has served as a gathering place for his family for years.
There are so many threads running through this story. It is an honest look at the challenges of growing up as a homosexual in a small town. It is a story of extended family (Walter’s aunt Sue Rawson is a strong force in his life) and of a small town neighborhood of the kind that seems to have almost disappeared. It is a heart-wrenching look at illness and a tender story of relationships. And, I know that I said it before, but it is beautifully written.
However, I do have a connection: my (25 y.o.) daughter declared herself to be 'queer' a few years ago. I was therefore looking for parallels which might help me to understand her life better and my possible role in that. I didn't really find very many, although the role of family ritual (present also in my family) was interestingly explored. I was a bit troubled by the way the man's sexuality was dealt with. It was as though he never had the slightest inner doubt about his sexual identity, the only issue was when to reveal it to others. Can this be real? Maybe I'm not understanding though...perhaps Hamilton was just choosing to deal with different issues?
As I mentioned, I did like the way she dealt with family relationships and other inter-personal relationships in general, including the protagonist's sexual relationships.
I will definitely be leaving Jane Hamilton's other books on my "to read" list.
We follow him into the 90’s when he teaches poetry at a small school in Wisconsin, and finally comes into his own. This book is a gentle coming of age story that left me smiling when I finished reading.
The characters were all written well and were true to themselves. There were certain people that you just wanted to punch in the face, there were certain people that you wished you could hug tightly while reminding them that everything would be okay, and there were people that you never really felt one way or the other about. All of those kinds of things are true to life and speak to the quality of care taken when creating and maintaining the characters involved. Walter's transition from being a gay teen-dancer dealing with the death of his older brother to being a gay adult learning to become a teacher in a rural setting is very well written and the relationships that he maintained through that time frame are also interesting to observe.
Overall, I read the book because I was curious about what would happen in Walter's life, not because I found the writing to be groudbreaking or beautiful or a work of perfection. There were times when I simply wanted to hurry along and move on to other books, but I just couldn't give up on the characters. High praise must to be given for good writing in that regard.