MiniReview: "Family Dancing" by David Leavitt

I'm guessing this is Andrew, Celia and Nathan from the story "Dedicated." A rather unusual ménage à trois.

What is it?

It’s a collection of nine short stories by David Leavitt, first published in 1984. This was his first book, published at the tender age of 23.


What are the stories about?

The collection’s title is apt, because the nine stories all focus in one way or another on families. This is middle-class America, the kind of America portrayed in TV sitcoms from the ’70s and ’80s, a place of surface comfort and conformity. Swimming pools are in evidence in many of the stories. It’s a (pre-AIDS) world in which gay folk are heartily invited to feel ill at ease.


Lots of high-strung gay men, then?

And women. There are only a couple of the stories here (the first and the last) whose main characters are gay, but there are queer characters sprinkled throughout the collection. Most of the stories deal with broken families, dysfunctional families, families threatened by illness (two of the stories feature mothers struggling with cancer), rebelling children and marital strife.


So what’d you think, overall? Was it a satisfying “gay” read?

As I said in another review, Leavitt is one of my favourite gay writers. He’s not flashy, but precise and detailed. His view of gay life is more mainstream and romantic (or vanilla, if you like) than that of a lot of other writers. He’s not into great explicit descriptions of sex, but is more interested in the state of mind of his characters, whether gay or straight. I love that he writes with such sensitivity of “unmasculine” boys who don’t fit in, and of vulnerable people more widely. This is very fine, intelligent, cultivated writing.


Any stand-out stories?

I loved the last one, “Dedicated,” about a young woman whose two best friends are gay men. She introduces them and the guys promptly fall in love (in Italy!), and she finds herself on the outside looking in. It’s a fine depiction of a gay male relationship seen from a straight (or asexual?) female perspective. There’s also “Danny in Transit,” about a boy whose father leaves his mother to set up house with a man. It’s a sensitive look at masculinity.


Stars (using the Michelin system)?


One star. There are no blinding insights to be had here, but these intricate, well-crafted, understated stories are well worth a visit.

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