Read Sebastian Stuart’s The Hour Between

Posted on May 25, 2010
Filed Under Book Review | 494 Comments

As you probably have read by now, Sebastian Stuart’s The Hour Between won the Publishing Triangle Award for Fiction.  The best thing about this news for me was that I discovered a book that I had somehow missed when it was published in September.  Anyway, here is my long-overdue review:

The nineteen-eighties were not a particularly good time for me.  I came to New York to be fabulous, to fall in love or at the very least get laid–a lot. None of that happened to me. Instead I spent a lot of time visiting friends in hospital rooms and wondering why I was one of “the lucky ones.” There wasn’t much that was good in the nineteen-eighties. The few fond memories I have of that period were the times I spent in clubs in the East Village where performance art was thriving.  I saw some amazing performances at clubs with names like: 8-BC and The Limbo Lounge. There were also a few decent plays going on there too.  One of my favorite playwrights then was Sebastian Stuart.  He wrote a play entitled:  Smoking Newports and Eating French Fries. It featured a couple of geriatric gals who discover the joys of poppers or as they called it, “that sniffy stuff.” Yes, Mr. Stuart could make me laugh. So I wasn’t surprised that his novel The Hour Between featured natural, frequently humorous dialogue.  Nor was I particularly surprised that this novel was seamlessly constructed.  No what surprised me the most about this book was the overall quality of the writing.  Put simply this is the most beautifully written novel I have read in years.

In this memory novel, our queer hero, Arthur MacDougal, finds himself landing in a 1960’s boarding school with the gently evocative name:  Spooner.  This almost-magical school seems to capture the spirit–if not the letter–of Christian Science.  In the Christian Science cosmology, Love–a synonym of God–literally fills all space. It’s a belief system so unrealistically optimistic that it’s bound to come in for a reckoning eventually.  But as one of the more fabulous characters puts it:  “…darling things do fall apart.  The trick is not to fall with them.”

To paraphrase Ionesco, it is the ephemerality of this school that gives it lasting value. Because the Spooner School represents adolescence itself:  magical, ordinary, fun and above all temporary.  Arthur understands this intuitively and yet he can’t help but bask in the warmth of an instant friendship with the most fabulous girl in the school: Katrina Felt. Her mother is a movie star and she is something of a star herself–frequently changing her perfectly selected outfits, inserting French phrases into her conversation and eventually getting photographed by Cecil Beaton–although I don’t want to give away too much.

Arthur seems as surprised as anyone that he is now friends with her.  And it opens up new worlds.  He gains a circle of friends and access to a few recreational drugs. His aversion to marijuana is perhaps understandable, given that the whole school already seems to be a mile high.

Again, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot.  Let me, instead, close with this: Read Sebastian Stuart’sThe Hour Between.

Sebastian Stuart’s The Hour Between is published by Alyson.

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