A creative writing professor’s memoir of two profoundly intense relationships that permanently marked his life.
Lisicky (Unbuilt Projects, 2012, etc.) met novelist Denise Gess in the early 1980s when both were graduate students at Rutgers University. She was everything that he, a then-closeted gay man, was not: vivacious, funny, and “able to hold the attention of an entire group of freshmen.” But it was not until Gess’ death from cancer that he began to reflect not only on the intense emotional relationship he had with her, but also with the poet, M., whom he married and then divorced. In a nonlinear narrative that moves back and forth in time and space to focus on episodes in the lives of all three main figures, Lisicky portrays not only the details of their lives as working writers, but also the emotional ups and downs he experienced with both his friend and his lover. In the early days of his friendship with Gess, she called Lisicky “two times a day, sometimes for two or three hours at a time.” But closeness also bred competitiveness in their professional relationship, as well as a possessiveness that not only suggested the two were “a little in love with each other,” but also led to emotional betrayals on both sides. On the other hand, Lisicky’s intimate relationship with M. mirrored the unconsummated one he had with Gess in how their connection seemed to reflect “some powerful exchange of psychic materials between [them].” Yet all their closeness did not prevent his husband's eventual departure from the relationship with another man. His world upended by Gess’ illness, Lisicky realized a painful truth. The closer he got to people, the more he had to acknowledge their freedom to die and/or leave him. With empathy and emotional finesse, the author renders the fragility of interpersonal connections, and he offers insight into the complicated nature of the human heart.
Honest and compassionate.