I read A Single Man—about George Falconer’s grief—when I was in school in the late sixties, and I don’t think I liked it much. At twenty-five I didn’t know what grief was, so I didn’t know it when I stumbled on it. I also didn’t know what this story had to do with my own life, even though I was losing things all around me and part of the huge burden I carried around with me every day was grief. On Tuesday I was in Border’s, looking for DVDs. I had a list on my phone, and I worked my way down the list, seeing what I could find. Not a one. Then, as I was about to leave, I saw Colin Firth’s grief-stricken face on the cover of the DVD for A Single Man.
I told C, my partner, that if I had read this book when it first came out, in 1964, and had been receptive to it, my whole life might have been different. This book is about George, whose lover, Jim, an architect, went to visit his parents in winter. Driving on an icy road, Jim loses control of his car and is killed. The book is about a day in the life of George Falconer eight months later, as George goes about the ordinary things people go about—he gets up, he fixes breakfast, he sits on the john, he notices the neighbors, he teaches a class at the university, he notices the tennis players’ sweaty torsos—while devastated by the loss of Jim and losing his grip on his own life. In my early twenties, I hadn’t read a book like this, that treated the love of one man for another so tenderly, so respectfully, with such understanding and caring, and with such importance. The book came out in 1964, and that was exactly the year that I most needed to read this book. I needed to be taught that there was a man who believed that the love of one man for another could be treated tenderly, respectfully, with understanding and caring, and with importance. Some years later, when I did read it, I still wasn’t ready to hear what Isherwood had to say about the love of men for each other. I still wasn’t grown-up enough.
When I saw the DVD in the store on Tuesday and watched it when I got home and then watched it again, then went to the store and bought a copy of A Single Man and read it, I differed from my earlier self in that now I am aware of loss and now I know what grief is, and it seems as if George Falconer is speaking directly to me, making it possible for me to know now why my life would have been different if I had read this book with understanding then.