I have lived in this city/ 25 years/ and all that time/ I have dropped things./ I’ve dropped/ tissues,/ letters from women/ in Santa Fe, N.M.,/ money,/ the keys to my house,/ books by/ Jacques Prevert./ And all this time,/ you,/ the people of this/ city, have pointed / to me, and said,/ “Hey!” “Sir!” “You!/ You dropped something!”/ and then I’ve picked it up./ You have watched/ over me all these/ years,/ and I’ve waited till/ now to thank you.”
Isn’t that a lovely poem and sentiment? It feels so uniquely New York and fits Beatitude perfectly as Harry Charity seems to be waiting – waiting to write, waiting for love, waiting for friendship. Harry is a writer, a fan of Jack Kerouac, and a lonely man trying to get over a failed relationship. Jay, a poet and former Marine, shares Harry’s affinity for the beat generation, and the novel is presumably about the men’s journey uncovering the multi-layered meanings of the beats. But similar to the relationships between the famous trio – Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs – Harry and Jay’s relationship is complex. Harry is gay; Jay is not (though at times his sexuality seemed fluid, which confused both Harry and me). Harry has a history of falling in love with emotionally unavailable men, and the novel explores his past relationships as well as his navigation of his friendship with Jay and Zahra, Jay’s girlfriend.
At times, I wanted to smack Harry upside the head. I don’t have much patience with men or women who are down on themselves and who continually fall for people who are downright cruel. [Harry’s former boyfriend repeatedly takes complete advantage of him.] However, I also sympathized with him. As an older, single man living in New York, he’s intensely lonely, living only with his cat Flannery. I certainly don’t understand giving tenth and eleventh and twelfth chances to a partner, but I can understand loving someone whether or not that love is returned. Love ain’t easy.
I think, too, that it is very difficult sometimes to withstand an intellectual attraction. Harry and Jay are passionate about Jack Kerouac and the other beats, hunting down the original scroll of On the Road, looking for first editions of his books, seeking out an interview with Ginsberg, and looking for typewriters to create a manuscript much like the beats themselves. It’s heady stuff, and it’s easy to see why Harry would be swept away by Jay.
Obviously, Kerouac and crew are prevalent as well, and I must say, I’ve never been a fan of the hedonistic beats, but Closs offered a different viewpoint: “[B]eatitude was also the word Kerouac used to describe the real meaning of Beat. He felt that Beat meant beatific, not down and out. To be Beat was to be in love with life, to exist in a state of beatitude, to exist in a state of unconditional bliss.” When I’ve taught the beats in my American Lit classes, I find students are rarely able to relate to that sort of passion and in-the-moment “bliss.” Frankly, I’ve always found it difficult to understand. But that passage made it come together for me.
Beatitude. It’s what Harry strives for, and watching his struggle is both edifying and humbling.
I’m so pleased that Lori from TNBBC asked me to be a part of the book blog tour for Beatitude, and an ebook was provided to me by Larry Closs in exchange for an honest review. Please join me tomorrow for Larry’s Instagram tour of New York/significant settings for his book. I’m really excited to show you what he’s got in store. If you’re interested in the novel, buy a copy of Beatitude here.