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  • Written by Anthony Giardina
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  • Written by Anthony Giardina
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A Novel

Written by Anthony GiardinaAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Anthony Giardina

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On Sale: May 01, 2001
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-50694-9
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In 1962, twelve-year-old Luca Carcera’s father suddenly moves out of the house under mysterious circumstances and surfaces across town in a run-down rooming house, living with another man. This event casts a long shadow over Luca’s own sexual coming-of-age, calling into dramatic question every relationship he develops—or fails to. Years later, Luca enters his own marriage harboring a sexual secret that, in an earlier era, might have remained a secret, but which now forces him to confront, in the most painful way, the strictly demarcated boundaries of male sexuality.

Excerpt

When I was eleven years old, in April 1961, my father arrived at school one day to take me into the woods. It was half-day, Wednesday. I usually walked home for lunch but that day he was waiting beside the Fairlane, in the suit he wore to work, the only man among the group of older, nervous mothers who insisted on coming and walking their children home from school.

On the drive — unannounced, with a mysterious destination — he tapped the wheel and hummed an odd little song that let me know he was nervous. I tried to follow the song, but couldn’t. My father was a small, secretive man, quiet, well-dressed. He was known in the family into which he had married, a large and clamorous Italian family (as he was Italian, himself), as one who habitually stood back from the passionate center of action. You can see even now, in the home movies that survive from those years (he never took them, my Uncle John did), how he stands aside from the others on the beach, hardly noticeable sometimes, smaller and more compact and less expansive than the other, heavier, laughing men. What those movies don’t tell you, though, is how he spoke, and the power he wielded because of the way he spoke. “Should we dig for clams?” someone on the beach would shout, trying to draw one last drop from the day. “No,” he’d say, and point. “The tide’s coming in.” The others would stand back
then, nod. How foolish they’d been.

That day, he’d brought sandwiches for us to eat, meatball; they were on the seat between us. By the time we were into the woods the submarine rolls had gone soggy, and the bag had a wet stain on the bottom. We had to park at the bottom of the hill where the road ended — the hill was adjacent to the old Girl Scout property, a large undeveloped tract in our town, which had been dominated once by a mill and watch factory, then, after these had closed, had managed to hold on to its population by becoming a
bedroom community for the city of Boston. There were still large wooded patches left, one or two farms. My father led me up the hill, as if following some sort of map that existed nowhere but in his head.

We found a rock — a large, flat boulder — that seemed to be what he was looking for, then ate the sandwiches. He still hadn’t spoken. He held a napkin six inches under his chin, a formal gesture, so as to catch any of the drops of sauce. Then, finally, he leaned toward me. He nodded once, and his lips made a small, familiar pursing motion.

“We’re going to live here, Luca,” he whispered.

He took another bite, then gestured, with his mouth full, across the ground in front of us. “This, this is our lot.”

My father’s voice had a slight rasp to it, as though he were in fact tougher than he appeared. It mixed with what was subtle and educated about him, and it was one of the things — there were many others — that gave the effect of there being at least two of him, two things not fighting it out so much as living inside of him in some interesting kind of harmony.

“That, over there, you see those sticks with the little orange flags? They mark out lots. Of course it’s only trees now, but they’re going to build a road up here. Everything you see . . .” Here he hesitated again. “They’re going to blast away. The rocks and . . .” He gestured with his fist. “Make houses. You can’t see it, but there’s an orange stick way over there. That’s where Uncle John’s house is going to be. We’re starting a neighborhood, you could say. The family. The Italians.”

He laughed a little after he said that, as if this last part of it, the Italian part, so important to my Uncle John, could never be as serious to him.

Then there was a silence. I looked where he’d asked me to look, and took in all this strange information, strangely delivered; delivered, that is, as though while he was telling me one thing, he was also telling me something else. So I listened harder than I was used to. I listened for the second story.

We kept a photograph prominent in our house in those days, a photograph taken when my father was in college. He’d gone to Boston College, the first in his family to go beyond high school, on a hockey scholarship. The photograph was black and white: him and his teammates, a row seated, a row
standing, hockey sticks crossed in front of the seated row, “Snooks” Kelly, famous in our house, stood beside them, heavy, jacketed, the coach. They were either jug-eared boys or else big-jawed boy-men who looked thirty when they were only twenty, and I suspect your eye would be drawn to my father even if you didn’t know him. Seated in the front row, he is smaller and more delicate then the others, the one who appears most singular, and therefore blessed. There is a smile he is wearing that I used to sit and study. It was the smile of a man announcing: I am in this world, but not of it.

It was there now, curiously so, as he looked off into space, and ate his sandwich.

“Listen,” he said. “This is for you. Here, living here, so you can have a better life.”

I watched him consider his words carefully.

“Candace Road, that’s a decent street, Luca, a nice neighborhood, but this is really something else . . .” Suddenly he trailed off. Something had begun to trouble him.

He had stopped — that was my father — as if too bold an announcement would trap him. He smoothed the wax paper in his lap. He took several seconds and then he looked at me. “You almost finished?”

I said that I was, though I still had half a sandwich in my lap.

That is the quality I remember of that day: my settling into a journey I believed was to be slow and luxurious, then being hurried by him, as if the direction in which he’d pointed us were being altered midstroke.


I have to say that in the days and weeks afterward, my father seemed more excited by what he was doing than he had that day in the woods. Sometimes, even months later, he would take out the architect’s renderings and sit with us — that is, with my mother and me; I was their only child — at the
kitchen table, pointing out this nicety and that. It wasn’t uncommon that as he was speaking he would touch my hair. I would run down the street, afterward, on a kind of cloud. And return, an hour or so later, to find he had retreated to his office, my mother setting the table for the two of us.
Anthony Giardina|Author Q&A

About Anthony Giardina

Anthony Giardina - Recent History
The author of two novels and a short-story collection, Anthony Giardina has has two plays produced to critical acclaim at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, the Manhattan Theatre Club, Arena Stage in Washington, and elsewhere. He has written for Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, and The New York Times Magazine.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Anthony Giardina

Q: What you're talking about in RECENT HISTORY are men and how they deal with intimacy. How is being a man today different from previous generations?

A: One of the trickiest things in my life has been tracking my own progress against my father's at a similar time in his life. When my father was fifty, which is what I am, he was building my mother her dream house; he was forcibly lifting the two of them, and their children, up a class. Their relationship may not have been great, but maybe it didn't matter so much. They were a corporation, a couple in sync with their times. At 50, I'm not building my wife her dream house. We tend to talk much more about our relationship, about the mental health of our kids; we may want more on the physical plane, but that's never the number one priority.
No thinking person, in a relationship, can miss the demand that exists today for more intimacy, more emotional honesty and nakedness. We're asked now to meet one another, sexually and emotionally, in a way our parents weren't asked to, at least not by the culture in which they lived. So I wanted, in this novel, to look at a couple who are really suited to each other in most ways, yet who harbor, on the male side, a potentially crippling secret.

Q: Does RECENT HISTORY posit that all men, straight and gay, have a homosexual side to their personalities?

A: I don't think all men have a homosexual side to them, no. But I think the labels "straight" and "gay" are about as useful in describing men's internal lives as the labels "conservative" and "liberal" are in describing the politics of the average American. This is not a comfortable thing for men to discuss; in fact, it's hardly discussed at all. At dinner parties I've been to, women seem to feel pretty free to let on that they've experimented in their youths with other women, but when the discussion turns to the men, the guys clam up. In fact, when I describe the plot of RECENT HISTORY to my male friends, a curious silence ensues.

A: Then how do you think male readers will react?

Q: Not to be too pretentious about it, this is the ur-history of men I'm writing about here, the suppressed history, the things I imagine a lot men have felt but have had to suppress because it's never been an acceptable part of the campaign biography. I imagine men will read this book on subways with a brown paper bag wrapped on the cover, but they won't be able to put it down.

Q: How does a straight father of two decide to tackle such a controversial subject?

A: The novel came out of a letter I read in the Dallas Sunday News, five years ago. The son of a gay father wrote in to defend his father against what I assume were some inflammatory anti-gay letters that had already come into the newspaper. What struck me about that letter was its tone, how difficult it must have been to write—the fact that a straight man was standing up within an extremely conservative community to defend his father's choice. But, look, it's exactly a married father of two who should be writing a book like this. A gay man is not going to write it because he's probably going to (quite naturally) want the main character to come out. It's only when you're writing from within the mainstream that you can summon the appropriate tension for a story like this.

Q: Can you give an example of what you mean?

A: Last New Year's Day, I found myself standing in the corner of a kitchen at a party with four or five guys—all straight, married, fathers—and one of us started talking about an experience he'd had as a teenager when his family had moved to Buenos Aires. He was followed by a man one night, and though he was frightened by it, he also found himself excited, and it was this latter emotion that had trailed him for the subsequent 35 years. One by one, the others of us joined in. We'd all had one haunting, unexplored foray into the other side of sexuality. And as I stood there listening, I understood that what made this discussion fascinating was the level of fear underpinning it. In each of the voices was a heightened sense of: how much am I exposing myself here? How far am I stepping out of the proscribed circle of acceptable male heterosexuality? It's not that a gay writer couldn't capture that level of tension, but I wonder how many gay male writers would be interested in the dilemma of the straight male world trying to figure itself out. Here I am using those labels "straight" and "gay," and I don't mean to, but we haven't evolved useful alternatives. Maybe this book represents a modest attempt to move that discussion forward. In ten years, I hope we've added some new words to the vocabulary of male sexuality, or better yet, quit characterizing altogether.


Q: What ARE men thinking about when they look at another man?

A: Any number of things, though the thoughts aren't necessarily sexual. Yet I'm always astonished by the thoughts my therapist friends tell me their patients say in therapy, especially when the patients are free-associating. It's wild. Sexual fantasies involving the male therapist from men who are leading authentic heterosexual lives. But it's all part of the huge rush that forms each moment of our waking lives. I once wrote in an essay that "99% of life takes place in a territory to which no one has yet given a name; it's a space created by two individuals, while they are looking at each other and not speaking." That's the territory I've always believed fiction should be dedicated to exploring. There are lots of things fiction writers are doing that historians and sociologists can do just as well. But the secret life of our times, that's the exclusive province of fiction.

Praise

Praise

Praise for Recent History

“Haunting . . . emotionally riveting, reminding us of the importance of accepting love in whatever form it presents itself.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Graceful . . . [Giardina] manages to handle an enormous amount of emotional material with a light touch. . . . [Luca’s] struggle is urgent and real. Giardina makes us care, in the end, what happens to our hero.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“There comes along, every once in a while, a fictional character so compelling that the novel he or she inhabits becomes larger than life. . . . To write such a novel, I believe, is the goal of every writer, and to find such a novel, the hope of every reader. Recent History . . . is such a book.” —The Austin Chronicle

“Giardina has a keen sense of character and an eloquent and soulful style. We are intrigued by his understanding of male sexuality, but we are more captivated by how much he knows about human frailty and growth.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Giardina’s prose is exquisitely tuned to his characters’ hopes, uncertainties and misgivings.” —The Seattle Times

“Gorgeously written.”
—Chicago Tribune
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. How damaging does Recent History suggest secrets are to a marriage? Could the father have kept his secret, and maintained a good marriage? Could Luca have kept his? How much does the answer to these questions have to do with what we expect of marriage today?

2. Luca says at one point that the main flaw in his marriage is that he has never “fully met” his wife. What does that mean? Is Luca overestimating the need for a level of emotional intimacy in marriage, or is that need really not as strong as he believes? Is the novel making any suggestion that the current demand for intimacy among couples may not be an entirely good thing?

3. How good or bad a father do you think Lou Carcera was? Are there some things he did well in bringing up Luca? Had he been more honest about himself, how much do you think that really would have changed things for Luca?

4. What is the author suggesting is the difference between men’s lives today and men’s lives in 1962, the time when Luca’s father leaves? Does Luca overestimate the differences, or have the changes been as real as he believes?

5. Is this a novel about homosexuality? If not, what do you think the author is using homosexuality to say about all forms of sexuality, or about relationships in general? Would Luca have the same, or similar, problems in his relationships if he didn’t have “the haunt” of homosexuality?

6. Is the author suggesting that all men have a homosexual side? One critic said that Giardina “understands something that, in the context of our post-Freudian culture, seems almost revolutionary: our sexual history is not always worth the importance we assign it.” Do you think that’s true? Does Luca’s sexual history really offer him a guide to the potential, or lack of it, in his relationship with Gina?


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