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In the summer of 1969, twelve-year-old Seth lives with his unstable mother, Ruth, and his brother and sister in a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey. His father lives with his new wife in a ten-room house and has no interest in Seth and his siblings. Seth is dying to escape from his mother’s craziness and suffocating love, her marriage to a man she’s known for two weeks, and his father’s cold disregard.
Over the next four decades, Seth becomes the keeper of his family’s memories and secrets. At the same time, he emotionally isolates himself from all those who love him, especially his mother. But Ruth is also Seth’s muse, and this enables him to ultimately find redemption, for both himself and his family.
From the Hardcover edition.
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A Note to Readers from Adam Schwartz
When I was three years old, my mother enrolled me in a local nursery school and told the principal that I was a slow learner. I was sitting next to my mother when she said this, and on the way home I asked her why she had called me a slow learner. She replied that she had told a "white lie," because she thought I would get a better teacher if the principal thought I was a slow learner. Years later, as an adult, I brought this incident up with my mother and she told me that I misremembered it: She had told the principal I was a fast learner. I trusted my memory more than my mother's, but she was right: I am a slow learner. I've wanted to be a writer all my life, and now, in my fifties, I’m about to publish my first novel, A Stranger on the Planet. I’ve been working on it for more than twenty years, though I didn't know it at the time. In 1988, I published a short story in The New Yorker titled "The Grammar of Love." The story was vaguely based on my experiences teaching at an African American college in Chicago. It's a story about a man who emotionally isolates himself from love and human connection, and who learns to imaginatively inhabit the lives of the people closest to him. "The Grammar of Love" was my first published story and I received a great deal of attention for it. I was certain my literary career was on a clear and accelerated track: I would publish a book of short stories--my literary apprenticeship--in two years, and then write a novel. Well, books, like life, don't turn out the way you expect.
Why did my book of stories turn into a novel, and why did it take me so long to write it? I would probably need to write another book to fully answer those questions, but I think the brief answer is that I was figuring out how to write about a deeply complex and emotionally difficult subject--my family. My parents married when they were in college and divorced nine years and three children later. Neither of them had any business being parents--they didn’t know how to care for themselves, much less children. My challenge--my inspiration--in writing the book was to humanize them as much as possible, to imaginatively inhabit their lives. Many writers feel they need to get a book under their belt before they're ready to do justice to their true subject matter. I knew that I would eventually write a novel based on my family; I just didn't know that the short stories I was writing would turn into that book.
People who have read my novel ask me if it's autobiographical. I reply that everything in the novel is invented and that it's all absolutely true. For example, in the novel the character based on my father says to his son, "You remember everything that's not important." My father never actually said that to me, but it's something he might have said, and it is certainly true. I do seem to remember everything that has ever happened to me, no matter how random or odd, and my job as novelist is to transform my memories into something meaningful and redemptive. I think the central character of my novel, a man who is pulled between a desire to escape from his family and a longing to connect with them, learns something very similar. After many years, he finally masters the grammar of love.About the Author:
Adam Schwartz is a Senior Lecturer in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. His stories have been widely anthologized, and portions of A Stranger on the Planet have previously been published as stories in The New Yorker. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. This is his first novel.
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Book Description Soho Press, 2012. Paperback. Condition: New. 1. Seller Inventory # DADAX1616950536
Book Description Soho Press, 2012. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1616950536