This past weekend I led our GLBT book club in a discussion of Stacey D’Erasmo’s A Seahorse Year. I hadn’t read the book before; after reading it, I looked forward to hearing what the undergraduates had to say about it.

A Seahorse Yearis about what happens to a non-traditional family when their 16-year-old son is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The son, Christopher, disappears one day. He turns up later, but unfortunately the family’s nightmare is just beginning.

The narrative is told from individual characters’ points of view. As a result, we get inside their heads, but only for brief moments. Otherwise, the narrative is relatively fractured. Our understanding of what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what the consequences are is only partial. In many ways, it’s a fairly realist, because it’s a (mildly) postmodern narrative.

What I really like about this book is its overall point of view. I’m not quite the same age as the parents, but I could really identify with their basic existence. In a sense, they each — the two lesbian moms, Nan and Marina, and the biological father, Hal, who inseminated Nan using a syringe — wake up one day and wonder how they got where they are: How did they end up in the relationships they’re in? Do they want to stay in them? What do they want in life?

I think there are days when one wakes up — either literally or figuratively — and is suddenly confronted by one’s life choices. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your partner (or whoever) but it does mean that you suddenly see yourself in a different way. You see that you’re no longer the person you were when you were 22 and that so much of your life is over. You begin to ask whether this is the life you had intended, if this is really what you want. A Seahorse Year really captures that sense of being middle aged, for lack of any better descriptor.

So, in sum, I really liked the book’s realistic portrayal of how these people react to their lives and the difficulties of suddenly discovering that your son is seriously disturbed.

The undergraduates had a bit of a different response. They didn’t particularly care for the book. On a basic level, they couldn’t identify with the characters. Not surprisingly, they liked Christopher’s character the best, since he’s closer to their age.

One or two of the lesbians thought that the description of the lesbian characters’ sex life was unrealistic. Bascially, the novel skips over the sex; we only see parts of the characters’ intimacies (the beginning parts, usually). Ultimately, this only matters, in my opinion, because it is often through sex scenes that we learn important elements of characters’ psyches. By not getting these scenes, we see the characters in a different way than we would otherwise.

As I read the book, I knew that I probably liked it for all of the same reasons that the undergraduates were unlikely to like it. But I think it was good that we read it together. It’s good for them see read a good book and it’s good for them to see that they might read this book differently in 10 or 15 years.

Unfortunately, our university’s budget cuts might mean the end of the book club. Right now, the GLBT Programs office buys copies of the books and provides a dinner — usually pizza — for the discussion meeting. The programs office is losing funding, which means it will probably not be able to continue supporting the book group. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find alternative funding or a different means of running the group.

In the mean time, A Seahorse Year is a really good novel. Once the plot really gets going, it’s an interesting and engaging read. I really liked it.

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