The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity
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Hailed for its searing emotional insights, and for the astonishing originality with which it weaves together personal history, cultural essay, and readings of classical texts by Sophocles, Ovid, Euripides, and Sappho, The Elusive Embrace is a profound exploration of the mysteries of identity. It is also a meditation in which the author uses his own divided life to investigate the "rich conflictedness of things," the double lives all of us lead.
Daniel Mendelsohn recalls the deceptively quiet suburb where he grew up, torn between his mathematician father's pursuit of scientific truth and the exquisite lies spun by his Orthodox Jewish grandfather; the streets of manhattan's newest "gay ghetto," where "desire for love" competes with "love of desire;" and the quiet moonlit house where a close friend's small son teaches him the meaning of fatherhood. And, finally, in a neglected Jewish cemetery, the author uncovers a family secret that reveals the universal need for storytelling, for inventing myths of the self. The book that Hilton Als calls "equal to Whitman's 'Song of Myself,'" The Elusive Embrace marks a dazzling literary debut.
Fifteenth Street. When he took his shirt off, it became obvious that he was using makeup to cover the KS lesions at the base of his throat. There was something unexpectedly sweet in the way his eyes met mine, half-apologizing for this particular last-minute mess, half-defying me to run away from it. Messiness is everywhere. For reasons that had less to do with this particular boy than he could ever have guessed, I felt ashamed for wanting to flee. We played very safely. Men are patient, they
boy knows of, but can never acknowledge or know. Like most tragedies, the Ion leaves you not with a pat answer but with a paradox, a men and a de. At the end of your search for identity, the Ion seems to say, your search for true and absolute knowledge of yourself, of your genetic makeup and the traits that make you always and repeatedly and inalienably you, there may not be a single answer but instead another riddle, the answer to which is unknowable to everyone but you: that you may be two
comfortable with it. It’s something he can say, or yell, easily. It’s also something with which Rose and I are both more comfortable than we were with Daddo, which was too close to something known, in the dictionary, and therefore not accurate enough to describe my twofold, hybrid nature. One morning in the spring of 1998 Nicholas, Rose, and I were all lying in Rose’s bed—we tend to assemble there in the morning and Nicholas will tell us about his dreams, which tend these days to be about riding
intended to lend dignity to a sordid occasion. There is my great-grandmother’s name, above that of her brother and his wife, a formidable unsmiling woman always and forever known as Tante; the standard words of invitation; the names of the couple, Ray and Samuel; then the date, Monday, May 28th, 1923; the time, 7:30 p.m.; and the location. This information is given again, in Yiddish, on the back of the invitation. In the Yiddish version, the word “Mrs.” is merely transliterated into Hebrew
During the spring of my second year, there was an early evening when I was at a party in a garden charged with the surprisingly green and oniony smell of magnolia blossoms that have been crushed underfoot. Under the trees you could see duos and trios of undergraduates, their voices uneven with drink and the anticipation of sex. From where I sat, on a bench nearly hidden among some low shrubs near an undulating serpentine wall—only one brick thick, the students who were University Guides would