Exiles in America
Christopher Bram
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Buy *Exiles in America* by Christopher Bram online

Exiles in America
Christopher Bram
William Morrow
384 pages
August 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars
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Exiles from New York, artist Daniel Wexler and his life partner, psychiatrist Zack Knowles, have been living in the leafy suburbs of Williamsburg, Virginia. Together for twenty-one years, Daniel and Zack are no longer sexual and even sleep in separate rooms, having believed that all their private crises are finally behind them.

Little do Daniel and Zack realize that the meeting with Iranian artist Abbas Rohani and his Russian wife, Elena, will jumpstart a series of events that will test the very limits of their relationship. Abbas and Daniel are both art teachers at William and Mary College, where Abbas has recently become the "artist in residence."

When Daniel invites Abbas - who specializes in figurative painting - and Elena over for a dinner party, he innocently shows the couple one of his homoerotic paintings, which immediately sets Elena on edge. Abbas, however, is strangely attracted to this suggestive image of two men coupling.

It soon becomes clear Abbas is sexually attracted to men as well as women, and he forms an instant connection with Daniel, drawn to the middle-aged man's sexual impulsivity. Daniel is equally attracted to Abbas and they begin an affair which gradually sets Daniel adrift, his feelings torn between searching for love and wanting just the sex.

They meet late at night in Abbas' studio; their couplings are wild and passionate, and they even travel to New York together to try and promote Abbas's art. Meanwhile, Zack is drawn to Elena, who admits that she doesn't love Abbas but is determined to stay loyal to him. Each couple seems intent on pursuing separate agendas, uniting in a type of emotional and sexual addiction.

Elena hides her unhappiness beneath a veneer of pleasant amicability while she constantly bickers and fights with Abbas, often in public. At first Zack is relieved that Daniel has an outlet, and he sees sharing spouses as "putting the adult back into adultery." He doesn't feel threatened, only curious, and maybe a little voyeuristic.

For Daniel, however, there is a silly feeling of joy in having the affair; it is fun to be loved, exciting to be wanted, but his desire to be physical with Abbas grows from a mild distraction into an ever-increasing itch, and he becomes ever more open to the possibilities of the abstract kind of sexual availability that Abbas presents.

Abbas is restless and dissatisfied. Complicated and conflicted, he wants everyone to love him. If they don't, he gets anxious and angry, then lashes out. He obviously loves his work, his children, and sometimes Elena, but he falls in love too easily with men and now he is in love with Daniel.

Everything unravels when Abbas' wealthy Iranian brother arrives in Williamsburg and begins to let loose impulsive judgments about his brother's sexual dalliances. This is also early 2003, on the eve of the war in Iraq, and the FBI are making enquires about anyone of Middle Eastern descent - terrorist suspects are on everyone's mind.

Zack and Daniel realize they are not as cemented in their love for each other as they had thought, their friendship with the Rohanis' leaving them quite breathless, as though they have talked themselves out of their life and revealed all the lies of their years together. Meanwhile, Elena and Abbas are torn between staying in America, fleeing to Canada, or returning to Iran.

Showing the roads conceivably not taken, Exiles in America beautifully exposes the themes of modern sexual fluidity, exploring the notions of sex and love and what it actually means to be "in love." Obviously we are all "exiles" in our own unique way.

Bram's characters discover that romantic, sexual and even domestic love is perhaps not what it's cracked up to be, "maybe it's just an illusion, its oneness all mirrors, a narcissism for two, and nothing more."

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2006

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