How much of a writerís life is really represented in his work?
This question lies at the heart of Markovits's novel, where from the ashes of every perspective burns every fleeting impression, every impulse, and every desire. Finally we can see the emotional detritus of Lord Byronís life, through the prism of deceased school teacher Peter Sullivan known for his quiet reserve, his shyness, and his arrogance.
With a tone that is fierce and elegiac, Markovits writes with the fresh pang of baffled friendship as he searches for the literal truths behind the life of his old friend. Markovits remembers his own sexual discomfort around Peter while acknowledging that their relationship was fleetingly intimate. The real mystery here
are sex acts involving "dubious consent" and whether Peter - and by association Lord Bryon - were both victim and exploiter.
What starts out as a exercise in sleuthing becomes a complex portrait of two men. Markovits travels to Boston with his wife and young daughter, endeavoring to find out more about Peter so that he can wind up his responsibility toward his friendís literary remains.
From this unique perspective, Markovits unfurls a novel within a novel, a tour-de-force of sexual artifice that not only touches on one of the most famous poets of his age but on scenes of composition that are part of literary history.
By todayís standards, Byron would probably be considered a pedophile and certainly a statutory rapist. Itís hard, then, not to imagine that Peterís interest in him contained an element of something unpleasant. With a desire to be cloistered within his work and a propensity for self-imposed isolationism, Markovits is able to build a picture of Peter as a lone man once accused of having improper sexual relations with a teenage boy at a prestigious Boston private school.
Markovits explores Peterís emotional heart, linking it to three critical stages of Byronís life. The sexual rite of passage is made literate in a boat, with only darkness and water for company. Fair Seed-Time begins the summer after Byron turns fifteen. Staying with his mother at Newstead Abby, the sly, gossipy observations from a dayís outing to Peaks Hole only mask the subversive happenings between Byron and wealthy Lord Grey upon Byronís return to Southwell in the spring of 1804.
The two other sections - Behold Him Freshman and A Soldierís Grave
- while less compelling, give us equally heady insights into Byronís life. In Cambridge, Byronís poetry flourishes, but so does his love for Edleson, a young choirboy who emerges from Peterís account with definite characteristics: petulant, shy, vain, and increasingly manipulative. Beyond Edlesonís story, you get an impression that itís Byronís recklessness that finally leads him to be so depleted after becoming an unexpected hero in the fight for Greek independence.
Peter and Byron may have been separated by time, but their desires were inherently similar. Byron treated fiction as a kind of code which allowed him to refer openly to the facts of his life. Likewise, Peter indulged his passions though the novel, a man so self-contained that all he had was his nerves, his love of books, and his vision of the infamous poet to guide him.