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When, in the late eighties, the author chooses to raise a child with her lesbian partner, she embraces a life outside the lines—one full of curious adventures as well as the usual catastrophes and everyday pleasures.
As a child of the sixties, Leslie Lawrence knew she didn’t want to duplicate her parents’ lives, yet she never imagined she’d stray so far outside the lines of their—and her own—expectations. The Death of Fred Astaire opens with the story, both wrenching and funny, of how Lawrence says her goodbyes to the iconic images she’s held since her youth; she then proceeds to bear a child and raise him with her lesbian partner. Some essays in this debut collection reflect on legacies Lawrence inherited from her Jewish family and culture. In others, she searches gamely for a rich, authentic life—a voice, a vocation, a community, even a “god” she can call her own.
Always a seeker, an adventurer resisting fear, Lawrence, a city girl, creates a summer home in the back woods of the “Live Free or Die” state. She attempts the flying trapeze and takes part in a cross-dressing workshop. Traveling alone to Morocco, she assists a veterinarian tending to an ailing donkey. Teaching in a vocational high school in Boston, she questions her methods and assumptions about race and class. With rare honesty, she confronts the complexities of motherhood, of caring for her ill partner, and of widowhood. In “Wonderlust,” the collection’s most ambitious piece, she explores the role of beauty and creativity in our spiritual lives, revealing how lifelong learning in dance, music, and the visual arts can make us all more alive even as we age.
Ranging widely in length, subject, and style, these personal essays place Lawrence among today’s most vital writers of creative nonfiction. Her warmth and wisdom, her distinctive blend of humor and pathos, her reverence for what sustains us—food and family, community and beauty—all make this a book you’ll want to share with those you love.
“...a marvelously rendered and insightful journey about living and loving as honestly as possible.” — Portland Press Herald
“...a beautifully curated collection … From her own grappling with identity (both gender and sexuality, parenthood, aging, landscape, partnership, etc) to her musings on memory itself (primarily, her father and his connection to Fred Astaire/the art that provides context for her childhood), Lawrence’s essay collection glitters with those transitional moments of present becoming memory.” — Lambda Literary
“Lawrence writes with a mastery that can turn on a dime from lyric grace to clumsy whim.” — Solstice
“Leslie Lawrence’s essays are sympathetic and patiently observed; she ably demonstrates that hard choices call for careful and humane decisions.” — John Irving
“The Death of Fred Astaire assembles a realistic and venturesome portrait of the author—as writer, teacher, partner, mother, grieving partner, perennial seeker—while capturing the complicated texture of the post-1960s decades of American life. Lawrence’s reach is wide, her narrative skills highly honed, and her tone is resonant with a sense of truth being told.” — Sven Birkerts, author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age
“The Death of Fred Astaire is warm, wry, and rich in detail. A lovely read!” — Kate Clinton, comedian
“In this stirring collection, Lawrence boldly plumbs her many lives—as lesbian mother, writer, widow, teacher, student, border-crosser … each is rich beyond description. The Death of Fred Astaire is a marvelous book. Read it and rejoice through your tears!” — Hilda Raz, coauthor of What Becomes You
“This lively and eclectic collection of personal essays will appeal to a wide range of readers, educating some about an era of American cultural history and for others providing material for an associational romp through their own memories. Additionally, The Death of Fred Astaire will provide useful material for courses in education, nonfiction writing, cultural studies, and women’s studies.” — Pamela Annas, University of Massachusetts Boston
“The Death of Fred Astaire is a smart, thought-provoking collection. Leslie Lawrence is at once a wise, companionable guide, as well as an empathetic narrator who points out and identifies with our collective yearnings and desires, our foibles and idiosyncrasies—which are, after all, the central human qualities that link each of us to one another.” — Michael Steinberg, author of Still Pitching: A Memoir
Leslie Lawrence is a recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and has published in a variety of venues, including Prairie Schooner, Fourth Genre, Witness, The Forward, and The Boston Globe Magazine. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
The Death of Fred Astaire
King for a Day
Fits and Starts: Notes on (Yet) Another Writer’s Beginnings
Karl Will Bring a Picnic
Dogs and Children
Andee’s Fiftieth and the Way We Live Now Yard Sale
The Third Hottest Pepper in Honduras
On the Mowing
My June Wedding
What Can You Do?
Wonderlust: Excursions through an Aesthetic Education
1. Dancing Outside the Lines
2. Braking for Beauty
3. On Course(s)
4. A Want
6. Beauty, the Treacherous
7. Wired for Beauty?
8. A More Modest View of the Power of Teachers
9. Me and Georgia O’Keeffe
10. On Beauty and Justice and Becoming a Horse
11. The Good, the Bad, and the Pretty/Beautiful/Wild/Disgusting
12. Rediscovering the Goldbergs
14. How I Became an English Major
15. Consider the Float, the Glide, the Slash, Dab, Wring