Starting Out in the Evening
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Titel: Starting Out in the Evening
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Leonard Schiller is a writer in his seventies. All of his books are out of print; he's left no mark in literary history; a lifetime of dedicated labor has brought him few rewards. Heather Wolfe is a graduate student in her twenties. She read Schiller's novels when she was growing up, and they changed her life. She decides to write her master's thesis about Schiller's work, and she sets out to meet him.
Starting Out in the Evening is a novel about the unexpected consequences of that meeting--and the unexpected consequences of art. Heather blows into Schiller's life like a whirlwind and overturns everything in it. After years of obscurity, he finds himself dreaming of literary immortality; after a lifetime of restraint, he finds himself infatuated with a woman "so young she seemed like an emissary from the future."
For Heather, meeting Schiller has even more complicated results. Finding it hard to believe that this cautious, habit-bound man wrote the books that taught her so much about the beauty of taking risks, she begins to suspect that her idol has failed to understand the deepest lessons of his own art.
In the course of the novel, we also come to know Schiller's daughter, Ariel, a spirited and tender-hearted former dancer, and her lover, Casey, a restlessly self-questioning black intellectual. Though deeply committed to each other, they are pursuing irreconcilable dreams, and together they are facing the fear that their conflicts will prove greater than their love. When Schiller's fortunes change dramatically, Ariel and Casey are put to a test that neither of them could have prepared for.
With a startling sureness of touch, Morton illuminates the inner lives of a varied cast of characters--male and female, young and old, black and white--all of whom are striving to live out their ideals in a world that seems to have little room for idealism. And in Leonard Schiller, Morton has given us one of the most remarkable characters to appear in recent American fiction--an unforgettable portrait of an artist as an old man.
Written with breathtaking insight and loving humor, Starting Out in the Evening is an exhilaratingly intelligent and powerful novel--an extraordinary triumph of the novelist's art.
Brian Morton's Starting Out in the Evening is a study in the danger of expectations. Heather Wolfe, a pretty, brash graduate student, is confident that her thesis on the novelist Leonard Schiller will put her on the literary fast track. Yet her first meeting with her idol produces something of a shock: "He came toward her smiling. Old, fat, bald, leaning awkwardly on a cane. The man of her dreams." Can this elderly author and "man of routines" really be the looming figure whose early fictions changed her life? The more she comes to know Schiller, the more he confounds her: his willingness to toil in obscurity falls far short of Heather's romanticized ideal. She can't even quite decide "if he was a hero or if he had wasted his life."
Schiller, however, views his own life quite differently. At first he's seduced by Heather's flattering attentions, and succumbs to at least a frisson of desire for love and fame. Yet ultimately this thoughtful, dignified man wants only to finish what he has begun. He has "no illusions about the scale of his achievement, but he had tried, through art, to bring a little more beauty, a little more tolerance, a little more coherence into the world." With wise and compassionate prose, Morton examines the intersection of these two lives, intertwining their story with a third one--that of Ariel, Schiller's unhappy 40-year-old daughter. Along the way, the author quietly raises a number of questions about the utility of art, its power to inflect our dreams, and, finally, what makes a life well lived. It is to Morton's credit that he doesn't presume to answer such questions. Yet the skill with which he asks them makes Starting Out in the Evening an elegiac and deeply affecting novel. --Marianne Painter
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