(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Leavitt’s first novel, The Lost Language of Cranes, is the story of two men of different generations coming to terms with their sexual orientation. Like much of Leavitt’s work, it is also the story of a family coming apart at the seams.

Rose Benjamin, a copy editor, and her husband, Owen, director of admissions at a private boys’ school, lead a tightly structured life, devoting their days to work and their evenings to reading in their twin rocking chairs. Every Sunday, they go their separate ways; Rose reads the paper and works in the apartment, while Owen spends the day at a gay pornographic cinema. Rose has no idea how Owen spends these Sundays and would never dream of asking. When she accidentally meets Owen on the street one Sunday while taking a walk, Rose realizes that after twenty-seven years of marriage, she hardly knows him: “She had stumbled into her husband on a strange street corner, running some mysterious errand she knew nothing of, and they had spoken briefly like strangers, parted like strangers.”

The first cracks appear on the surface of the Benjamin family life when Rose and Owen learn that their New York City apartment will be converted into a co-op, and they must either buy it or move out. Once their sanctuary from the outside world is threatened, the rest of their carefully structured life begins to crumble as well. Their son, Philip, infatuated with a new lover, wants to share his happiness and reveal...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

The Lost Language of Cranes Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Lost Language of Cranes is a naturalistic, contemporary novel about a small, upper-middle class intellectual family in New York City in which the son’s acknowledgment of his homosexuality transforms his parents’ marriage in unexpected ways.

The novel is divided into four sections: “Voyages,” “Myths of Origin,” “The Crane Child,” and “Father and Son,” with the third significantly shorter and the last significantly longer than the others. The section titles are thematic; chronologically and stylistically, the novel flows as a unified whole. It is presented in a third-person narrative voice that often enters the thoughts and feelings of the main characters.

As the novel opens, the reader sees Owen and Rose Benjamin in their separate exploits on a Sunday afternoon. They are a happily, or at least tranquilly, married couple who have comfortable jobs and live in a rent-controlled apartment on New York City’s posh Upper East Side. The security of their shared life is threatened by news that their building is to become a cooperative apartment house, leaving them the equally unattractive options of buying or moving out.

The reader then meets their son Philip, a twenty-five-year-old editor who is in love with a golden and capricious young man named Eliot. Philip dotes on Eliot but always feels uncertain and unsatisfied; he is also uncomfortable with the secrecy of his homosexuality and the distance it creates between him and his parents.

The novel weaves in and out of the Benjamins’ lives as they travel the streets of New York, share meals, work, converse, make love, and face challenges large and small. Along the way, readers observe Owen in his secret life, furtively frequenting adult motion-picture houses where he indulges in homosexual fantasies and barely resists constant temptations....

(The entire section is 764 words.)