A SENSE OF TOUCH by Christopher Osborn


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Osborn's fast novel--set on the day of the concert-hall debut of a young homosexual pianist--is an impressionistic coming-of, age story, replete with sexually explicit passages and a sensitivity that is evocative but also precious and, at times, sentimental. Robert sees in the audience his parents, friends, and lovers--and each of these characters gets a chunk of the novel to express his or her point of view. Robert himself feels like ""a visitor to a rich and beautiful garden"" of the composer, and it's this hothouse sensibility that controls the book. Long flashbacks or reveries introduce us to Robert's early rejections and jealousies, to his artistic temperament, to anonymous sex (""Such matings often have no follow-up""), and to Johnny (with whom Robert is most involved), who ""had an urgent need for smooth, unblemished bodies."" Meanwhile, Yvonne, Robert's mother, is alienated from her husband, Henry, but lives through her son (""Had Henry, after all, ever cared much for what she considered most precious--the imagination?""), while surgeon Henry ""knows that every note the boy plays, every movement of his face, goes straight to her heart. It is more than love. He knows that their boy, the ape, is still a part of her. . ."" After the concert, most of these people gather at a dinner party, and the multiple point-of-view allows Osborn to juxtapose the fears, desires, and daydreams of the guests. Robert mediates between these various sensibilities (""his father's surgical mind, dissecting life like a body, winks at him"") until he meets Manbadu, a Sherpa. They sleep together--after which Robert reaches a moment of peaceful stasis: ""Through Manbadu he feels a connection with all the distant people of the world."" Occasionally, this lyrical tapestry effectively dramatizes its hothouse world--but too often it makes too much out of too little.

Pub Date: April 11th, 1990
Publisher: Harper & Row