Equal Affections Summary
by David Leavitt

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Equal Affections Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Equal Affections chronicles the history of the Cooper family: Nat and Louise, their children, Danny and April, and Danny’s lover, Walter. Although the plot sounds melodramatic—Louise is fighting a twenty-year battle with cancer, Nat is having an affair with an old family friend, and both Danny and April are gay—Leavitt handles his characters and situations with such restraint and understatement that the novel never deteriorates into soap opera. Rather, it presents a subtle study of family dynamics.

The family’s history unfolds through a series of flashbacks, arriving at the present as the family is brought together by Louise’s final bout with illness. As they watch her die, each character struggles to define a place in the family circle as well as an identity outside it. The temptation to isolate themselves from “messy” human relationships battles with the insistent pull of family ties in each of them.

Danny, the quintessential “good son,” has buried himself in a comfortable but stale upper-middle-class existence, surrounded by electronic gadgets. His lover, Walter, has become more involved with his computer sex partners than with Danny, tempted by the possibility of living “without ever having to touch, without ever having to show your face!” April, completely self-absorbed, immerses herself in her career as a lesbian folk singer, fitting her family into her life only when her busy schedule allows.

The characters also struggle between the opposite pulls of domesticity and “wildness.” Walter sees parallels between his life and Louise’s, noting that they have both sublimated their wild sides to domesticity and conformity. “He saw her as a woman of guileless passion who, for one reason or another, had suppressed that passion and instead fixed her gaze on the dependable horizon of the domestic sphere.” Walter also has determined to “incorporate his sexual nature into a life of suburban domesticity, uproot the seed of homosexuality from its natural urban soil and replant it in the pure earth of his green garden.”

Nat and...

(The entire section is 513 words.)