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  • The Short History of a Prince
  • Written by Jane Hamilton
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  • Written by Jane Hamilton
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The Short History of a Prince

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A Novel

Written by Jane HamiltonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jane Hamilton

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On Sale: September 01, 2010
Pages: 368 | ISBN: 978-0-307-76407-2
Published by : Anchor Knopf
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Walter McCloud is a boy with dreams unlike most. Introduced as a child to the genius of Balanchine and the lyricism of Tchaikovsky, Walter has always aspired to be a dancer. As he grows older, it becomes clear that despite his desire, he lacks the talent, and he faces the painful knowledge that his more gifted friends have already surpassed him.

Soon, however, that pain is overshadowed when his older brother, Daniel, finds a strange lump on his neck and Walter realizes that a happy family can change overnight. The year that follows transforms the McClouds, as they try to hold together in the face of the fearful consequences of Daniel's illness, and Walter makes discoveries about himself and his friendships that will change him forever.

Decades later, after Walter has left home and returned, he must come to terms with the memories of that year, and grapple once and for all with the challenge of carving out a place for himself in this all-too-familiar world.

A moving story of the torments of sexuality and the redemptive power of family and friendship, The Short History of a Prince confirms Jane Hamilton's place as a preeminent novelist of our time.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt

As it turned out there was so much baggage on the trip to Lake Margaret that Walter's friends, Susan and Mitch, sat crushed in one foldout seat in the back of the car, and Walter was left with the middle bench seat. Robert McCloud had arranged the two aquamarine coolers, the suitcases and the grocery bags. It wasn't for nothing, he said, that Joyce had been a Girl Scout: she was fully prepared for an ice age, a drought, a monsoon and the invasion of the termites. Walter was pinned against the door by the coolers, it was awkward to turn around, and he had to shout to be heard. The teenagers gave up talking after a few minutes on the expressway. Susan and Mitch fell asleep against each other. Nothing had gone according to plan, and Walter stared gloomily out the window. Just as well that Daniel was sick, he thought. If he'd come they'd have had to tie him to the roof rack.

Joyce glanced back now and then to make sure there was nothing unseemly going on between the two lovebirds in the kiddie seat. She gave her husband a preview of the day to come, quietly, and with restraint, evoking her hysterical sister. Even marking the gestures, not imitating them full out, was funny, and Robert snorted into his shirt and twice said, "Oh, Joycie."

She had enough sense not to ask Walter if he was all right. She could see that he was troubled about something, and he in his turn knew that she had taken note of his unhappiness. Her general sympathy brought him a guilty little pleasure. His thin skin and tender heart were at once a source of pride and anxiety to her. He had asked to study ballet, she had known better than to try to talk him out of it, and she had clung to the belief that his enthusiasm for the dance would shield him from the predictable taunts. It had been such a stroke of luck that his two dancing-school friends happened to live in Oak Ridge. They had been put together in the First Junior Class at the Kenton School of Ballet in Chicago when they were ten years old and together they'd advanced all the way up to the Second Intermediate Class. But through good and bad fortune Walter would always have his own temperament, and Joyce feared that he would feel the injuries of adolescence more keenly than his peers. Still, she hadn't given up on a straightforward future for him, and she wondered if it was Susan, if the leggy girl squeezing against Mitch, was the source of his present misery.

Her conclusion was not exactly off the mark. Walter was thinking about the night the week before, when he and Susan and Mitch had been in the McClouds' living room, dancing and listening to records. Walter had picked out Tchaikovsky's Serenade, a piece that had been their favorite since the previous summer. George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer in the history of the dance, according to Walter, had made a plotless ballet to the music, and Walter, in a tribute to both virtuosos, had the volume up so high that the Gamble dogs, in their yard, cocked their heads this way and that, hearing noises in a frequency Tchaikovsky never intended. The dancers rushed headlong in and out of the doors, running the length of the room with their arms outstretched, doing the bits of the Balanchine choreography they had absorbed over the years. Between the three of them they had seen eight performances of Serenade. Walter and his aunt Sue Rawson had seen it four times the month before, night after night at Ravinia Park.

Mitch was always the man, intermittently lifting Susan over his head and carrying her around like a barbell. It seemed to Walter that Mitch's strength was inherent, that it was a quality he had not had to work for, no need to lift weights or wrestle or play a lot of catch. It was just there, that strength, a part of him. There were few hard, fast, unstated rules to their dancing game, principles not to be broken or bent. They were meant for Walter. It was curious, he thought, that he understood the protocol instinctively, that no one had ever had to slap his wrist or say, Repeat after me. Funny, that it was the kind of thing he knew with animal sense. He was not allowed to lift Susan, but he could offer his arm if she wanted support for an arabesque. He was not to turn her; the pirouette business was also Mitch's privilege. Susan, however, could turn Walter, with good humor on both sides. He most certainly was not to attempt, even as a joke, to lift Mitch. But he could touch Mitch if, say, they were dancing in a circle, holding hands. Then they were comrades, the three of them. When they spun there was nearly an absence of possession.

Walter, in the first movement of Serenade, threw himself into the wind of the large fan on the dining-room table and struck a pose. He buffeted back and forth, in and out of the steady push of air. If only he had on one of the blue chiffon costumes that Balanchine's dancers wore, a gown that would flutter and billow after him. He was going full tilt--no one could say that he did not have enough feeling for the entire ensemble of twenty-eight girls. "Not having the blue dresses," he panted as he jetéed past Susan, "for this ballet, is probably on a par with riding a motorcycle and"--he called over his shoulder--"finding that it doesn't rev."
Jane Hamilton

About Jane Hamilton

Jane Hamilton - The Short History of a Prince

Photo © kevin Horan

JANE HAMILTON is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction, A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and named one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Miami Herald, and People magazine; Disobedience; and The Short History of a Prince. She lives in Rochester, Wisconsin.

 Jane Hamilton is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau (www.rhspeakers.com).

 

 

Praise | Awards

Praise

"Irresistible...As [Hamilton] evokes the powerful grip of love, both young and mature, cruel and ecstatic, she reaffirms life."--People"Subtle, moving, and utterly convincing."--Newsweek"Lovely in its appreciation of the resilience of family--Hamilton's plainsong to American endurance still lifts the heart."--Entertainment Weekly"With intelligence and empathy--and drawing on rich veins of irony--Hamilton tells the story of Walter's search to define his talents--at once surprising and redemptive."--The New York Times Book Review"Hamilton's third novel and arguably her best, for it matches its range of emotion with a technical precision both masterful and haunting--Hamilton has eased time and memory throughout her novel with the expert abandon of a dancer in full pirouette."--Boston Globe"[Hamilton] can make real life riveting--There can be no better recommendation for a novelist."--Denver Post

Awards

NOMINEE 1999 Orange Prize for Fiction
About the Book|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

The moving story of the torments of sexuality and the redemptive power of family and friendship, The Short History of a Prince is the story of Walter McCloud, a boy with dreams unlike most. Introduced as a child to the genius of Balanchine and the lyricism of Tchaikovsky, Walter has always aspired to be a dancer. As he grows older, it becomes clear that despite his desire, he lacks the talent, and he faces the painful knowledge that his more gifted friends have already surpassed him. Soon, however, that pain is overshadowed when his older brother, Daniel, finds a strange lump on his neck and Walter realizes that a family's happiness can change overnight. The year that follows transforms the McClouds, as they try to hold together in the face of the fearful consequences of Daniel's illness, and Walter makes discoveries about himself and his friendships that will change him forever. Decades later, Walter returns home and must come to terms with the memories of that year, grappling once and for all with the challenge of carving out a place for himself in an all-too-familiar world.

Discussion Guides

1. A sense of place is significant in each of Hamilton's books. At the heart of The Short History of a Prince is the family's summer home at Lake Margaret. What role does this big old house play in Hamilton's tale? Why is it so important?

2. In A Map of the World, Hamilton takes the reader on a slow, downward spiral toward disaster; in The Short History of a Prince, she makes it clear early on that Walter's brother will die, thereby revealing the book's ultimate tragedy and then moving beyond it. Does this defuse the story's suspense? Once you know of the death, what is it that makes you want to read on?

3. Walter's response to his brother's impending death is cruel and self-centered. Is his behavior understandable—even forgivable—at this point? Why or why not?

4. One of the pleasures of this novel is the evolution of Walter's and Susan's friendship. How does Hamilton manage to show each character at his or her worst in this relationship and yet convince the reader that they can be devoted friends?

5. Sue Rawson is an important figure in Walter's life, and her association with the world of classical arts holds particular meaning for him. What do you think Hamilton is trying to say with her portrayal of this woman who seems to live on an altogether different plane than the rest of her family?

6. Is The Short History of a Prince written entirely from Walter's point of view, or were there times when you felt the presence of an omniscient narrator? If so, how did this change of perspective affect your reading of the story? What about Walter's humorous tone? Did his lighthearted attitude diminish the impact of this tale of tragic death, failed romance, and loss of a dream, or serve to make it even more poignant? How does Hamilton manage to take us through such a journey and end with hope?

7. How would you describe the world as portrayed in Jane Hamilton's novels? Is it particularly just or unjust? Does it strike you as realistic?


  • The Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton
  • March 16, 1999
  • Fiction - Gay; Fiction - Literary
  • Anchor
  • $15.95
  • 9780385479486

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