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Retro Reading: Consenting Adult by Laura Z. Hobson


From the outside, the Lynn family is perfect, privileged and popular.

Until the letter.

Tessa Lynn is excited when she receives a letter from her son, Jeff, who's away at school. Like her two older children, Jeff is perfect (although this past summer the two kept butting heads while he was home for summer vacation) until she reads one line in the letter. He thinks he may be gay.

Shocked, Tessa rereads the letter, but is hopeful that Jeff may be wrong since he's looking for an analyst near the school. Instead of writing him back, she sends him a telegram and lets him know that she's proud of him for seeking help.

She spends the day looking for an analyst for him and family friend, Dr. Mark Waldo, suggests an analyst who has had a twenty five percent success rate.

Tessa breathes a sigh of relief, visits the analyst and feels good that he may direct Jeff on a much clearer path.

At first, she doesn't tell her husband Ken about the letter since he's been recovering from a stroke and is afraid that this news might trigger something in his recovery.

Eventually, everyone finds out about Jeff's sexuality and the line is drawn, yet Tessa becomes obsessed and starts her own crusade of learning everything she can about this "disease." (The book starts out in 1960).

As she learns more, she keeps bringing up her findings to Jeff, but he doesn't want to know what she's learned. He keeps telling her that he's being himself, yet he thinks that there's something wrong with him and he needs to work everything out for himself.

Tessa gets mad when she's not given any progress reports from the analyst and his future analyst. She also asks Jeff for updates, but he tells her that what he tells the analyst is confidential.

While the years go by, Tessa still obsesses over his sexuality and feels a pang when she realizes that he won't know the joy of dating, marrying or having children. She does have a ray of hope when he occasionally dates a girl named Sue and sometimes pushes him to pursue a relationship with her.

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Ken on the other hand, tries to avoid Jeff as much as possible since he can't accept that his son is "damaged" no matter what Tessa tells him. He doesn't want to know anything of her research.

After Jeff graduates from college, he decides that he wants to become a doctor and moves to California where he studies at UCLA.

Jeff decides to stay in California and on his last trip back to New York City, he and his brother-in-law Nate go out at one in the morning to a bar. Nate, a reporter, has been working on a story regarding gay rights and they inadvertently become involved in the beginning of the Stonewall riots.

Nate's stories are heavily praised and one day he and Tessa are talking and he mentions Jeff's bravery for standing up to a police officer and at that point, Tessa learns just how proud she is of Jeff.

It only took about thirteen years.

While this is essentially Jeff's story, it's told through Tessa's eyes (pretty much making Jeff a secondary character). We don't really get a glimpse into Jeff's life as to does he date, go out, what?

The main point in the story is how Tessa wants to understand Jeff, but, she's too obsessed and still tries to maintain a lifestyle that everything is perfect in her family. The older child, Don, is barely mentioned, but at some point becomes a bible thumper which we don't get to see.

For lovers of narrative prose, you'll love the book, but for those of us who like dialogue you won't find too much of it. Whenever there is dialogue, the story becomes much more fast paced.

Another problem I had was that there were many flashback scenes and at times I was lost whenever the scene ended.

At the time the book was published, I'm sure it was considered controversial, but in reality, it's quite tame and well worth a read.

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