Prospero's Son: Life, Books, Love, and Theater

Prospero's Son: Life, Books, Love, and Theater

Seth Lerer

Language: English

Pages: 168

ISBN: 022601441X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“This book is the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciousnesses and almost two epochs.” That’s how Edmund Gosse opened Father and Son, the classic 1907 book about his relationship with his father. Seth Lerer’s Prospero’s Son is, as fits our latter days, altogether more complicated, layered, and multivalent, but at its heart is that same problem: the fraught relationship between fathers and sons.
 
At the same time, Lerer’s memoir is about the power of books and theater, the excitement of stories in a young man’s life, and the transformative magic of words and performance. A flamboyantly performative father, a teacher and lifelong actor, comes to terms with his life as a gay man. A bookish boy becomes a professor of literature and an acclaimed expert on the very children’s books that set him on his path in the first place. And when that boy grows up, he learns how hard it is to be a father and how much books can, and cannot, instruct him. Throughout these intertwined accounts of changing selves, Lerer returns again and again to stories—the ways they teach us about discovery, deliverance, forgetting, and remembering.
 
“A child is a man in small letter,” wrote Bishop John Earle in the seventeenth century. “His father hath writ him as his own little story.” With Prospero’s Son, Seth Lerer acknowledges the author of his story while simultaneously reminding us that we all confront the blank page of life on our own, as authors of our lives.

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true that the casket is incinerated. But how can you put a price on peace of mind?” I ordered the cheapest thing in the catalog, a hundred-dollar plywood box, and for the ashes I asked for a plain wooden container with his name on it. He looked at me with all the dour dismissal of a character in a Charles Addams cartoon, but took my check and wrote down the particulars. That afternoon, I let the estate agent into the apartment. There was a grad student at Stanford who had heard Dad died, and

anything. I’m surprised he had a son.” He had two. And a wife. His silence asked the question. It’s a long story. “Business is slow.” My parents met as actors, in the Brooklyn College production of Blithe Spirit in 1948. Dad was in his early twenties, out of college, already with an MA and a teaching job. What he was doing back at Brooklyn College starring in stage plays with undergraduates was a mystery to me. But there he was, Charles Condomime to Mom’s Ruth, the second wife. We have a

boats, our clothes, our gear, and drove south out of Middletown, along the turnpike, into the Bronx, across the bridges, down the parkways, and through New Jersey into Philadelphia. The trailer had been loaded up with all four of our boats, each one named for a onetime coach at Wesleyan. My boat, the men’s lightweight eight, was the Garafalo. We followed in the school bus, making good time at fifty miles an hour. We knew we’d never win, but we talked about the other schools, and famous rowers,

on point, on book. The day before the scheduled performance, I went out on my own to buy some props and costumes for the show. I drove into Oceanside to find the largest Army Navy Surplus store in Southern California. Nestled between the marine base and the water, Oceanside was as busy with military as it had been thirty years before, when I accompanied my father-in-law to get some hardware for a home repair project. Just like that day, I walked the streets in a button-down shirt and loafers,

would count to three and snap his fingers, and the doors would close. How did he do it? One night, when I was seven, we drove deep into Manhattan, parked, and came upon the Union Carbide Building. Inside, there was an exhibit about atoms, chemistry, and power. A model of a uranium atom spun inside a great blue plastic globe. It was like being taken on a tour of matter’s very heart, and I held his hand as if he were my Christmas ghost flying me over unexpected streets. I grew up longing to relive

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