Sunday, May 15, 2016

David Leavitt, "Gravity""—Short Story Month 2016-Day 15

            David Leavitt's first collection of stories, Family Dancing, published when he was twenty-three years old, consisted of nine stories that mostly dealt with the tensions that strain the delicate fabric of family relationships--sex, divorce, illness, death.  A central tension is that of a young gay male trying to come to terms with his homosexuality or trying to find acceptance within his family. 
            In  A Place I've Never Been, Leavitt's second collection, eight of the ten stories focus on conflicts arising out of the gay lifestyle; but Leavitt's homosexual characters, both male and female, in this new book have pushed beyond the problem of psychological self-acceptance or social acceptance by others; they now either confront the further implications of living with their sexual orientation or else they deal with homosexual versions of the problems that face the heterosexual mainstream.
            "Gravity," because of its lyrical and symbolic quality, isone of the most intense of the stories that deal with homosexuality. By implication, we may assume that Theo is a young homosexual with AIDS who has chosen to take a drug that would save his sight rather than one that would keep him alive. However, because he is dying again, he comes to live with his mother.  On a shopping trip to buy an engagement gift for a cousin, 
            Theo's mother chooses an expensive crystal bowl; while examining it, she literally tosses it through the air to her feeble son.  The fact that the bowl is so heavy and yet so fragile, combined with the fact that the son is able to catch it and hold on to it, constitutes a symbolic moment that provides both the mother and the son with a small but sustaining victory.
            However, there are earlier images of the relationship between the two in the story.  The image of the small boy in his mother's glasses suggests seeing through her eyes.  His identification with the mother is also alluded to when he asks if would be all right to give a gift and the mother says "you already have," meaning that she has bought the gift for him.  
          Because of these references to their relationship, the trajectory of the tossed bowl somehow emphasizes the firm yet fragile connection between them.  Although there is no way to defeat the law of gravity, for it is the law that roots us to body and ultimately to death, there are gestures such as the tossing of the bowl that momentarily seem to defy gravity and thus assert the human ability to defy death.
             All of Leavitt's stories deal with universal human themes of self-discovery, divided allegiances, and the search for acceptance.  It is just that in the fictional world of David Leavitt such universal needs and conflicts primarily derive from the biological, personal, and social reality of homosexuality.

Tomorrow: Charlotte Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper"

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