Cover image for A seahorse year
A seahorse year
D'Erasmo, Stacey.
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
Physical Description:
360 pages ; 22 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Stacey D'Erasmo's new novel, following the highly acclaimed Tea, is a powerful and beautiful book about a pivotal year in the life of a quintessentially modern family. In contemporary San Francisco, an extended family is transformed by the emerging breakdown of a troubled adolescent boy. The lives of those who love Christopher -- his mother, Nan; her lover, Marina; his gay father, Hal; and Christopher's loyal girlfriend, Tamara -- are pushed to the edge by something new in him that mystifies them all. When he runs away, far into the woods of nothern California, their assumptions about themselves and one another are sorely tested. They might not, they discover, be quite so modern as they once thought. Even the dried seahorses on Marina's windowpane rattle unnervingly as if to announce a time like no other.
In precise, lyrical language, A Seahorse Year explores love at the limits of bearability. It is wise about the things we do out of love that often have both redemptive and disastrous consequences. Difficult questions that have all the tough complexity of real life are asked; devastating truths are revealed in the answers.
Michael Cunningham described Tea as "pure and profound, a ravishing book." A Seahorse Year is an even richer, more luminous achievement.

Author Notes

Stacey D'Erasmo was an accomplished literary reviewer before making the crossover to novelist. She was Senior Editor at The Voice Literary Supplement for seven years and has written articles for Rolling Stone, The Nation, Details and New York Newsday. She won a Stegner Fellowship in Fiction based on the first forty pages of TEA and went on to become the first Fiction Editor for Artforum. She is currently a contributing writer for Out. She lives in New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Christopher, a 16-year-old San Franciscan, is missing, and his parents--Hal, an accountant, and Nan, a bookstore owner--are frantic. As is Marina, a painter and Nan's live-in lover. As this high-strung trio search their souls for clues to sweet Christopher's inexplicable disappearance, D'Erasmo reverses time to reveal that Nan and Hal, who is also gay, barely knew each other when she decided that she wanted to have a child. Neither could have predicted just how loving a father Hal would be, just as they never could have imagined that their son would end up suffering from the most diabolical of illnesses, schizophrenia. In her sterling debut, Tea (1999), D'Erasmo explored the repercussions of a mother's suicide. Here, in an even more refined and hard-hitting tale, she maps the ripple effect of a loved child's mental illness on adults already coping with complex emotional predicaments. Marina is unfaithful; Hal is lonely; and Nan is terrified, enraged, and heroic. Fluent in the subtlest of psychological states and gloriously visual in her resonant descriptions of everything from table settings to a redwood forest, D'Erasmo composes scenes of both high drama and grinding everydayness to form a supple yet piercing novel of obdurate individuality, inescapable aberration, and oceanic love. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

D'Erasmo's quiet, penetrating second novel (after Tea) follows a San Francisco family coping with a 16-year-old son's mental illness. Christopher's mom, Nan, is in a long-term relationship with girlfriend Marina, who's like another mom; his sperm donor dad, Hal, is gay, a dancer-turned-CPA. But despite the unconventional setup, his parents sometimes act with the confused stiffness of the most traditional of families. When Christopher runs away the first time, Nan is distraught; she explains that her son had "a freak-out, we think. He wouldn't wash, he was angry all the time, he was saying all sorts of strange stuff, and he just, he just wasn't Christopher." After Christopher is fetched home, he's diagnosed with schizophrenia; Nan, meanwhile, is grasping at connection, and Marina's sleeping with someone else. D'Erasmo portrays Christopher's strange thoughts with beauty and insight; his misguided girlfriend, Tamara, is also tenderly, convincingly rendered. The family's unsettled state adds to the complications, as Christopher nearly kills himself and then escapes, with Tamara's help, from a mental health facility. As D'Erasmo shifts between different points of view-distinct, but united by her lush prose-she paints a portrait of illness, but also of growth and change. 5-city author tour. Agent, Jennifer Carlson. (July 7) Forecast: The book's non-traditional family set-up and effortless prose will remind readers of Michael Cunningham's early novels, and should help build D'Erasmo's readership. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In her second novel (after Tea), D'Erasmo explores how a supposedly unconventional family is no different from a traditional one when confronted with difficult choices. Set in contemporary San Francisco, the story centers on Nan, an ex-Texan bookseller; Hal, an accountant who was once a local celebrity in a campy gay troupe; their teenaged son, Christopher; and Nan's artist lover, Marina. The balancing acts that define their lives are challenged when Christopher is diagnosed with a serious mental illness and disappears into the northern California hills with his girlfriend. Alternating perspectives and controlled, nuanced writing bring depth and compassion to each character, illuminating their flaws and contradictions to full effect. While this is a strong domestic drama, it loses momentum toward the end and is weakest in its depiction of teenage angst (e.g., the repetitive references to P.J. Harvey run thin). But the sympathetically drawn characters and brilliant moments in her writing make D'Erasmo an author to watch. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/04.]-Misha Stone, Seattle P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Hal walks uphill. My son is mad, he thinks, and turns a corner, passing a coffeehouse where three women in sweatshirts sit at an outdoor table. Its cool, gray, and damp: summer in San Francisco."Hey, Hal," says one, a client. Hal waves."Yeah, hes great," she says to a friend as he walks on. "He got me back a thousand dollars last year."My son is mad, thinks Hal. I am dying. He almost stops to call Nan and say that - I am dying, I am dying - but he knows that she will reply, calmly, "You are not dying, Hal. Did you talk to the police today?"Sometimes he just cant handle her - her persistence, her smooth face, the way she occupies any chair as if she has just built it herself out of a tree she felled with her little saw. I am lost, he thinks, I am sure that Im dying, my son is mad, and his mother wont admit that she cant carry him by herself.Hal walks on. No one has found Christopher yet, no one has called to say that theyve seen him, no one - not even Nan - has come in from the desert or the mountains carrying him. Hal looks up at the sky, as if Christopher might appear there, but the sky is blankly bluish gray. Back in Christophers room in Hals house, Christophers saltwater sh tank is burbling to itself. Expensive sh circle through the carefully tended water: a lionsh, a snowake eel, three temperamental tangs, and a bamboo cat shark who spends most of its time lying on the bottom of the tank, looking malevolent and morose. Since Christopher has been gone, it has fallen to Hal to take care of Christophers sh. This morning, Hal noticed that the tank seemed warm and the sh sluggish, that they were swimming slowly, like a carousel winding down. Hal felt a panicky rush. He believes in omens and portents and signs of all kinds. He immediately set out for the aquarium store, the good one in Noe Valley where he had opened an account for Christopher. He thought he might see an omen or sign on the way, but so far there has been nothing, nothing at all, but that random, friendly hello and miles of sky without a break.Hal looks down again, at the street. A not uninteresting man with a squashy nose looks Hals way, but Hal doesnt look back. Hal, walking uphill, is equally certain that Christopher is alive and that he is dead. Either way, he is certain that it will fall to him to carry Christopher - who, at sixteen, is much too heavy and tall now to be carried even by Hal - in the end.Nan works in her garden. It is a long, narrow plot of land containing four square beds of owers outlined by planks of silvered wood; around the beds is grass. Around the garden is a fence, also silvered. Trumpet vines tumble wantonly over the fence toward earth. Midway down the garden is a slender, deep purple, owering plum that has never owered or plummed but maintains a hopeful, leafy look. A few feet away from the plum tree, nestled in some tall grasses and a few wayward daisies, is the stone head of Sor Juana. Nan pulls a few weeds from Excerpted from A Seahorse Year: A Novel by Stacey D'Erasmo All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.