Sunday, November 21, 2010

Enjoying "The Weekend" with Peter Cameron

I read Peter Cameron's 1994 novel The Weekend in two short afternoons. It was that absorbing and delightful. From the back cover: "On a midsummer weekend, in a country house in upstate New York, three friends gather on the anniversary of the death of a man related to them all by blood or love. Their idyll is disturbed by the presence of two outsiders: a faux Italian dinner guest and a young gay man now involved with the dead man's lover." The premise may appear somewhat thin, but the novel spins gold out of straw.

The Weekend is clearly indebted to modern Masters; in fact it extends their tradition of acute social observation by incorporating into the novel's ambit the matter of gay relationships and HIV. Keenly aware of time passing, and of the complicated significance of social rituals, The Weekend reminds me of Virginia Woolf. The S-shaped stone wall in the woods, built by John, who keeps to the garden and so is associated with the spirit of the earth, is that mysterious thing, ultimately unexplainable, that one encounters in the fiction of E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence. The glittering material culture and the social ambition recall F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In naming Cameron's literary predecessors, I am following Joyce Reiser Kornblatt in her New York Times Book Review piece. She missed one more, I think. Italy, home of Laura Ponti the dinner guest, and of the dead man Tony, when he was young, is the foreign other, as it is in the fiction of Henry James. The observations of self and other in this novel may be less subtle, less fluttering than in the American expatriate's late fiction, but the skillful arrangement of people, in groupings of varying size and shade, is as complete as The Golden Bowl.

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