Able Was I begins by introducing us to Grey Tigrett, an American college student tooling around Italy for a summer before graduation. On the island of Elba (yes, Napoleon’s Elba) Grey, who came to the island with a longtime girlfriend, has a brief but significant amorous encounter with an Italian man named Antonio.
The narrative then skips ahead 14 years, where we find Grey in New York, with all the trappings of a comfortable life-a lucrative job, a long-term relationship (with a man), and a swank West Side apartment-but unable to shake his profound sense of alienation and discontentment.
Grey is defined in large part by his dreaminess, by his aloofness, and by the bored, perfunctory quality of most of his interactions. Despite the intimate look we get into Grey’s life and his thoughts, his personality always remains somewhat muted, somewhat nebulous. It is to the author’s credit then that rather than thinking the character incomplete or inconsistently drawn, we accept it as realistic, believable.
The book feels inclusive where, in someone else’s hands, it could have been alienating. Adding to its charm are lovingly drawn, evocative depictions of New York City and Italy. Grey’s homosexuality is never treated as outlandish, nor does it in any way define him. This means that, while readers who happen to be gay should immediately identify with the character, everyone else will also quickly be won over. Grey’s plight is universal.
Since many people are, by definition, amateur escape-artists, the character’s discontent and self-imposed isolation will resonate broadly.
Reviewed by IR Staff