Marshall, Robert, “A Separate Reality”, Carroll & Graf, 2006.
Coming of Age in America
“A Separate Reality” by Robert Marshall is brilliant. Marshall tells the story of Mark Grosfield, a teem misfit growing up in Phoenix of the 1970s. He is a man and a boy, wise and not real bright, awkward and delicate and more than all else, he is complex. He is a wild man in thought and intelligent and creative. He is not easily understood by those around him and all of his pain and torture and misery of adolescence are captured here. He seeks spirituality, he wants guidance, and he rebels against it as he strives to find a place for himself.
Mark is the middle son of a politically active, Jewish intellectual family and suffers from self consciousness on hand and is very aware of the insincerity that surrounds him. He searches for the meaning of life and looks to his art teacher who nurtures his poetic talents and introduces him to the mysteries of Taoism, Carlos Castaneda and Buddhism.
Mark’s quest for meaning is so much a part of him that it is hard to imagine him without it. Some of the issues he looks for meaning about are the dynamics of his family the death of his grandmother, his own homosexuality and the depth of his poetry. The words hr writes in his poems mirror his soul and provide him with a world where everything and anything can happen. His thoughts are almost existential and when he makes the statement that he “keep (s) thinking about not thinking”, we get a clue to his personality. He sees himself as a reflection of himself and he aspires to live in the moment. He worries about the future and how it will affect him and wonders how people will think about him. He is funny, endearing and lovely and all of his complex parts build a guy whom you can’t help but love (and most likely identify with).
The book also studies the dynamics of Mark’s family. He loves his mother but knows that his feeling for her will not last; he is at odds with his father and can’t seem to establish bonds with his sister. His family is e stereotypical Jewish liberals who dwell on the fate of the Rosenbergs, who cannot understand what to George McGovern’s bid for the presidency. This is overwhelming to Mark who just cannot find the key to family harmony.
What “A Separate Reality” really is is a coming of age story as one kid tries to make the mundane and everyday happenings of the world in which he lives have some sort of meaning. Written in the stream of consciousness style of writing the author draws the reader into the narrative and shows how one can make sense of his life. It gives meaning to the idea of being one with the world on one hand and being at odds with it on the other.
This is a book to make you think—to consider what is really important in life and what really matters. There are passages of brilliance and this is a book to be thought about again and again. It is one of those books that scream me “Read Me” and you will be glad that you did.