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A Stone Boat

Though he’s a rising classical pianist recording his first CD, Harry is experiencing “the saddest period of my life.” His mother is dying of cancer and she blames her illness on his homosexuality. “My mother wanted me to have a perfect life, more perfect even than hers,” Harry, who’s in his mid-20s, observes in his wish to be seen as both a good son and an independent man. What he’s keeping secret from his mother, however, is that, inspired by his attraction to a female friend, he’s becoming aware of his fundamental bisexuality. Solomon’s prose is stylish, sometimes beautiful, but it suffers from a vagueness that hovers about the relationships it describes (“When something saddened me, she came and joined me in my pain,” says Harry of his mother). The characters live in a world of upper-class homes and hotels in Paris, London and Manhattan, with weekends in country homes and maids and chauffeurs at their disposal, a backdrop of privilege that sometimes edges into preciousness (“I associate my mother’s entire illness with cut flowers,” Harry notes). Yet the contrast between the idyllic existence money can buy and the inexorable ugliness of death is poignantly obvious. Harry’s struggle to cope with his parent’s impending death is observed with passion and conviction. Solomon (The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost), a senior writer for the New York Times Magazine, shows great promise in his fiction debut.