The Lost Language of Cranes

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Owen and Rose Benjamin lead a quiet, middle-class life in Manhattan. For more than twenty years, they have lived in the same apartment, following daily routines which have become inflexible rituals. Their son, Philip, lives alone but still forms a part of the fabric of their lives.

Suddenly this carefully constructed life begins to unravel. Outwardly the cause is the threatened loss of the Benjamins’ apartment as their building goes co-op. There are, however, darker forces threatening the family. It becomes apparent that Owen has had a secret ritual, hidden from Rose and Philip. He spends each Sunday in a gay pornographic movie theater, where he can satisfy his homosexual urges anonymously in the dark. Already under stress about the apartment, Owen now finds that his Sundays are no longer enough, and he begins to struggle with his increasingly overt need. At the same time, Philip is in love and is trying to find the courage to tell his parents he is gay. His eventual disclosure gives Owen the final push necessary for him to come out, too.

Leavitt paints an uncompromising picture of life in New York’s gay community, both the seamy, transitory side and the close relationships that can develop. He deftly conveys the agony and confusion suffered by Owen and Philip as they come to terms with themselves and with Rose’s anger and fear when she finally must face a truth she has avoided for many years. He weaves into a coherent whole scenes from each of the three lives in the present and the past. A subplot involving a black lesbian friend of Philip is less successfully integrated. Overall, however, this is an affecting novel by an...

(The entire section is 677 words.)