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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Patrick E. Horrigan's American Scholar explores the life of James Fitzgerald, a professor in New York City. The kick-off point begins with a disruptive encounter James has with the sister of an old acquaintance, following a successful reading of his book, also titled American Scholar. This unexpected visit prompts James to delve into his past, with the narrative alternating between his reflections in 2016 and his experiences within academia and the gay community in 1987. During this earlier period, James, known as Jimmy, forges a deep connection with Gregory, a fellow student in a study group. However, Jimmy must grapple with Gregory's mental illness and his own complex sexual desires, compelling James to critically assess his current life and relationships.
Who would ever think the healing of political division in the world could be achieved through Dolly Parton? Ok, maybe that's a stretch but it is one of many lighter parts in the emotionally weighty American Scholar by Patrick E. Horrigan. My wife grew up in San Francisco in the 1980s and the HIV/AIDS epidemic that overwhelmed that time is something she has spoken of many times and continues to even today. Going into this novel, I expected the usual frolic in yesteryear's pop culture and social taboos. Those are there, but what I walked away with was much, much more significant. At the human level, Horrigan's book is a love story, the type he couldn't find himself saying: “But why should gay men be deprived of a romantic story?” James experiences love in its different forms in the past and present, and the people who shape the seasons of life in each stage. The writing is sublime and the academic scene of Ivy League scholars and discussions of intellectual Titans place the book in a unique category. It is a thought-provoking delight to read.