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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
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READING HERODOTUS:
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TRYING NEAIRA:
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Attenberg, Jami: The Kept Man

  Amazon  

4 stars

As the first sentence of Jami Attenberg's prologue memorably notes, Jarvis Miller has been waiting for her husband to die for six years. Martin--an artist who isn't household-name famous but is known enough to have inspired a dissertation--has been comatose since he had an aneurism and fell off a ladder in his studio. The tragedy was great for his saleability: Jarvis isn't wanting for money, so she doesn't have to work. She doesn't have to do much of anything. She's just waiting. Unable to move forward because of her liminal status as not-quite-widow, she wallows in the past--visiting Martin, of course, but also poring over his paintings, smelling his shirts every day...still, six years on. (Though no expert in the patterns and longevity of grieving, this struck me while reading as not quite credible. And yet Jarvis is depressed and stuck, and so, I suppose, anything's possible.) Attenberg's narrative captures the period in Jarvis's life when events conspire to push her out of the holding pattern she's been mired in.

Jarvis's story is told in the first person in languorous prose, glimpses of her past with Martin related in patches of back story that interrupt the description-rich narrative of the present. The sluggish rhythm of Jarvis's life is mirrored on the page, in the book's unusually long sentences--there's one that's 162 words long in chapter five--asides segregated from the main thrust of a sentence with dashes: Attenberg makes good use of her punctuational toolbox. (If I'm not mistaken, these long sentences becomes less frequent later in the book, as Jarvis's life itself picks up speed.) Jarvis is a complex, imperfect character. She was saved by her relationship with Martin from a life that was rootless and trivial. Having adopted an identity as his wife, who is she when he is gone, neither living nor dead? That's part of her problem.

The Kept Man is not the lightest book, but it's not as depressing as the above probably suggests. A good--if not run-screaming-through-the-streets good--read. You're unlikely to be disappointed.

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