Author: Mark Merlis
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Genre(s): Gay Literary Fiction, Historical
Page Count: 272
Reviewed by: LenaRibka
Heat Level: 2 flames out of 5
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
Jonathan Ascher, an acclaimed 1960s radical writer and cultural hero, has been dead for thirty years.
When a would-be biographer approaches Ascher’s widow Martha, she delves for the first time into her husband’s papers and all the secrets that come tumbling out of them. She finds journals that begin as a wisecracking chronicle of life at the fringes of the New York literary scene, then recount Ascher’s sexual adventures in the pre-Stonewall gay underground and the social upheavals that led to his famous book “JD.” As Martha reads on, she finds herself in a long-distance conversation with her dead husband, fighting with him again about their rocky marriage and learning about the unseen tragedy in her own apartment that ended with the destruction of their son, Mickey. Mickey comes to life in the space between Jonathan and Martha’s conflicting portraits of him, while Martha and the biographer tangle over the continued relevance of Jonathan’s politics and his unfulfilled vision of a nation remade. Martha learns about herself, finally, through her confrontation with a man who will not let her go, even in death.
Mark Merlis’s JD is a brilliant and harrowing view of a half century of the American experiment, acted out on a small stage by three people who cannot find a way—neither sex nor touch nor words—to speak their love for one another.
I am a very emotional person, and I tend to react very emotionally to my books. I know that I tend to react over-enthusiastically to the books I love, and that I tend to overload my reviews with exclamation marks. But this time it is different: even if I adore what I have just read, and even if I’m ready to give it straight away more than 5 stars (if I could), you won’t see any exclamation mark.
I am in a state of quiet admiration for Mark Merlis’ prose. I found the story itself very interesting, educational, intriguing enough and deliciously provocative, but it is THE writing that makes this book an unforgettable reading experience.
JD, a finalist of the 28th Lambda Awards in the category Gay Fiction, is extremely well written. This book is a literary jewel. I LOVE EVERY SINGLE PAGE in it. You can’t even imagine how much I highlighted. Three days have already passed since I finished this book, and I am still not ready to pick up another book. And it means something.
JD is a fictional book, though it may be easily confused with documentary, thanks to a perfect vivid atmosphere of the Sixties
Jonathan Ascher was an important radical thinker, social critic, poet and novelist in the 1960s, but 30 years after his death he is totally forgotten. When Philip Marks, a university professor, occasional writer and openly gay, approaches Martha, Ascher‘s widow, literary executor and custodian, for the permission to write the biography of Jonathan Ascher, and, in this regard, askes her to obtain access to the papers of Dr. Ascher, Martha’s first spontaneous answer is “NO”. But this unexpected request brings old memories back, and the longing for the answers to the questions she was afraid to ask herself. She decides that the only way to keep the names of her dead husband and her dead son alive for just one more bit of eternity is to let the biography appear. But before she can hand the papers over to Philip Marks she HAS to go through them by herself. In the library at the School for Liberal Studies, where all Jonathan’s papers were given to and have been stored untouched for 30 years, she discovers among other manuscripts Jonathan’s journals, his diaries of 1964,1966, 1970, 1972, 1973. What were they for, these journals? Can they give her an answer to all her questions? Do she really want to know them? She starts to read…
Those journals reveals many secrets. Secrets she always knew but pretended not to notice.
Secrets that she would never learn without reading these journals. With the recovery from the first shock after finishing the first journal comes a dilemma:
If Jonathan wanted to expose his ideas to a new generation of young readers and she chooses to hide these journals would it be protecting or betraying Jonathan?
JD mixes two narratives- the present and the past in the most marvelous way. Two main protagonists, two different first person POVs – Martha, Jonathan’s wife and her thoughts through the prism of her memories and emotional response to Ascher’s journals, and Jonathan himself through his diaries- provoking, rebellious, honest and very alive. Two different persons, two different worlds, two different epochs make this novel a colorful, varied, exciting and eventful read.
It is a book with a big discussion potential. I really want many of my friends read it and we can talk about after.
Was Ascher’s demand for political and social freedom just a desperate desire for sexual freedom he couldn’t get being trapped in this marriage and in this time period? Who is to blame for what happened to Mickey Ascher? The Sixties and their revolution in social norms? Historical circumstances? The unhappy marriage of his parents? Why did they stay together? Why why why why…
Only when I finished this book, I realized what it was about, and this realizing (as well as the ending itself) hit me like a thunderstorm in a quiet May night. I finished it late in the night, yes, because I could not put it down, and I slipped away from the bedroom to vent my emotions without waking my husband.
I am still thinking about it, 3 days after finishing it, and I’m still not able to pick up a new read. And I’m still in this state of deep and silent admiration for Mark Merlis’ writing skills.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.(I promised, no exclamation mark)