Jesse Green is the author of The Velveteen Father: An Unexpected Journey to Parenthood (Villard/Random House: 1999). He is a much-anthologized, award-winning journalist and a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine; he has written for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, New York, Premiere, GQ, Philadelphia, Mirabella, and Out.
His novel, O Beautiful, was called "one of the best first novels of the year" by Entertainment Weekly in 1992 and was reissued by Ballantine in 2000. He is also the creator, with the novelist Meg Wolitzer, of the Mind Games puzzle column, which appears bimonthly in the magazine Civilization. He lives in New York City.
The Velveteen Father
An Unexpected Journey to Parenthood
(Hardcover: Villard, 1999; Paperback: Ballantine, 2000)
Everything conspires against the single, childless man. Each new living thing in the world each day says: You are alone, and not getting younger.
At the age of thirty-seven, the journalist and novelist Jesse Green found his life dramatically changing when he met and fell in love with a man who had recently adopted a baby boy. Having long since made peace with his choice not to be a parent, Green now faced the shock and the responsibility of a fatherhood he had never imagined. The Velveteen Father is his candid, heartfelt, and often hilarious account of the formation and flourishing of a family.
In intimate, graceful prose, Green describes his partner's journey from the hedonistic eighties to the realization that he wanted to have a child; his own concurrent journey to find a way to become an adult without having a child; and their journey together to become good parents in a society whose reactions to unconventional families can be both funny and frightening.
In the classic bedtime story, a velveteen rabbit is made real at last by a child's true love. The Velveteen Father is a moving record of the transformative effect parenthood can have on people who least expect to become parents, of how we are repeatedly made anew by the love of children who need us. But this transformation is not just the province of parents, Green writes; only by addressing, in some way, the generations that come before and after us can we face the task of becoming real. The Velveteen Father will therefore interest anyone who has considered—or would consider—having a child.
(Ballantine/Available Press, 1992/2000)
Martin takes the day off from work to make an elaborate meal for his friend Stella and the blind date who could be Martin's match. Matt certainly is charming and good-looking, but—as both Martin and Stella discover before the entree is served—he is also straight. Yet by evening's end, Martin is irrevocably drawn to this magnetic, spirited, and unattainable man.
So Martin obliges when Matt finds himself needing a place to stay, and the two embark upon an oddly comfortable relationship that involves every shade of intimacy but sex. The closer Martin gets to Matt, however, the more he realizes that his enigmatic roommate may not be all that he seems.
SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
The Velveteen Father
"A moving series of meditations on what it means to be a child, a parent, a gay man and a Jew in a culture that often avoids complicated discussions of these identities."
-- Publishers Weekly
"Moving and beautifully written"
-- New Age Journal
"Remarkable . . . insightful, eloquent, and clever . . . A standout comment on the eternal and contemporary implications of family emerges from this enjoyable story that is far too good not to be true."
"Delightful . . . Extremely funny . . . A very moving examination of identity and the making of a meaningful adult life that resonates profoundly for people of every sexual orientation."
"A glorious love story. By page 10 you'll be choosing baby names."
"Gracefully written, disarmingly candid . . . Green, one of the best magazine journalists around, gives his memoir the narrative momentum of a good novel -- no surprise, since he is also the author of a very good novel, O Beautiful."
-- Philadelphia City Paper
"Green's saga has a gimlet-eyed objectivity that pierces the familiar cants and cutesies of books about parenthood. There are observations here sure to resonate with the childed, the childless and the childfree; and Green's contemplative view of parenthood is all the stronger for his resistance to see this ultimate responsibility through the gauzy lens employed by many of his contemporaries."
-- The Washington Post
"Candid and touching."
-- San Antonio Express-News
"A lovely memoir . . . touching and eloquent . . . Green has written his story at a time when much is being made about the "gayby boom" phenomenon of gays and lesbians having children. But few writers have explored the emotional terrain of gay parenthood, and even fewer the inner life of gay fathers.
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"A thoughtful, poignant memoir of a gay man becoming an adoptive father -- not once, but twice. But it's more universal than that. It's about childhood and courtship and the terrible beauty of family history."
-- USA Today
"Deeply moving . . . beautifully written . . . Jesse Green takes us on a journey through the dramatic passages of one man's experiences raising a family."
-- The Sanford (N.C.) Herald
"A humorous look at a fully functional family and a scathing commentary on the state of American politics today."
-- Baltimore Jewish Times
-- The Chicago Tribune
"Endlessly witty . . . astutely philosophical . . . a treatise on the whole issue of maleness and fatherhood."
-- The Jewish Exponent
"Intensely personal, moving, and often humorous . . . The Velveteen Father more often than not taps into the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of a great many gay men and lesbians. And it challenges readers to rethink once again what gay liberation encompasses.
-- The Advocate
"Smart and timely."
"Affecting, amusing and often poignant."
-- Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A fascinating chronicle . . . Green's opinions will challenge both gay and straight audiences.
-- Library Journal
"Perhaps Mr. Green's biggest strength is that he manages to tell an inspire and original story that will interest just about anyone. With his take on the modern family, he is redefining the term and showing his audience that anyone can be a good parent through the love of a child. The Velveteen Father will not only pull at the readers' heart strings, it will also provoke thought about the state of politics in America today. By the time the reader finishes this heart-felt, honest memoir, she'll wish Mr. Green would adopt her, too.
-- Jewish Family & Life
"Brooding, funny and relentlessly philosophical . . . It is a work from the heart, and it alternately touched and wrenched and broke my own."
-- The Cincinnati Post
"Green, an award-winning gay journalist, will charm your socks off with this beautifully written memoir of a neat, orderly life turned upside down by sudden fatherhood. . . . Anyone who has ever had the slightest thought about having children will absolutely love this book."
-- Q Syndicate
"A tender, intelligent book, Jesse Green's very intimate reflection on what it means to be a father illuminates all families with eloquence, wit, and insight."
"I totally love this book--at once sweet and delicious and touching and wise, beautifully written, and, to anyone who has ever contemplated parenthood, endlessly thought-provoking. It could lead to ten thousand blessed adoptions, and proves, yet again, that love trumps labels."
"What a beautiful, touching book. Great story, wonderful writing."
SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
"This trade paperback original is one of the best first novels of the year -- funky, intelligent, and completely involving. Martin, a single GWM, is a slightly nerdy set designer with an eye for beautiful objects -- including Matt, a maddeningly enigmatic, supposedly straight boy with a bod like Marky Mark. The emotions that Green wrings from this odd coupling feel mighty real -- and the jokes are funny, too. [Grade:] A"
-- Entertainment Weekly
"An unusually accomplished first novel by a writer who obviously knows much more than a thing or two about choosing words aptly and succinctly, constructing elegantly parsed sentences, and holding his readers' interest as he layers his story with insight and cross-referenced detail -- as well as, to be sure, not a little humor. . . . Green reveals his adeptness with fiction by turning out a tightly integrated novel whose considerable power to move is oddly proportionate to its quiet subtlety. What initially seems to be a comedy of manners set in New York's theater and art world -- Green obviously knows much about that also -- deepens to become a resonating exploration of the intricacies of self-value, human connectedness and, yes, the true nature of beauty."
-- Bob Summer, Lambda Book Report
"Jesse Green's carefully crafted, compulsively readable first novel takes flight. A tale of 'obsessive, unrequited and impossible' love, O Beautiful . . . like its unconventional love object, quickly becomes impossible to resist. . . . In Green's deft hands, the relationship that develops between ambivalently gay Martin and not-entirely-unaffected Matt is as touchingly believable as it is consistently unpredictable. Embellishing this bittersweet harmony are other voices in varying stages of the quest for love. . . . His creations ensnare and enchant; at any moment . . . will come a tiny emotional implosion that perfectly captures some bewildering aspect of the human condition. . . . Shame and desire, empathy and ridicule: As it soars to its poignant, oddly thrilling conclusion, O Beautiful fulfills the promise of its quirky premise: keeping afloat the precarious balancing act between these poles that lurk within us all."
-- Helen Eisenbach, QW
"Martin is an original. In refreshing contrast to the current overuse of E.M. Forster's epigraph to Howards End ("Only Connect"), Martin's motto is "Only disconnect." Green's language is exquisitely precise, which reflects both the measured existence of his protagonist and Green's own background as an inventor of word puzzles (you may have read his elegant essay on crosswords in the New York Times Magazine a while back). And he makes profound observations about the link between desire and shame, and about the impossibility of knowing another human being. There are beautiful little epiphanies (my copy of the novel is already dog-eared) throughout."
-- David Warner, [Philadelphia] City Paper
"It's a sad tale, but Green is a good writer and he makes Martin's frail gullibility and his irritating need to dispense love while asking nothing in return highly believable. It's believable because he describes the need that we all have for illusions such as Martin's. Even better, Green offers a fresh, luxurious style."
-- Juan Palomo, The Houston Post
"First novels are too seldom original novels. But O Beautiful, Jesse Green's first book, breaks the pattern in a most beguiling fashion. . . . Green's characters have been shaped with a light but solid craftsmanship; in addition, he lavishes smart attention on the very real emotions around love and lust, need and desire, and, above all, friendship. Added together, Green's combination of talent and originality makes for a delightful debut."
-- Richard Labonte, The Advocate
"Green is a master of words and their flow. Descriptions read like poetry. . . . As in his fine journalism (which appears in the New York Times and Premiere), Green's greatest strength is the telling scene; a moment described in vivid detail that defines and explains. In O Beautiful, Green successfully goes against the prevailing cast of gay literary characters to illustrate the complexities of coming out. He offers keen insight on a process shared by all people, not just gays, who come to know their true selves."
-- Chris Adams, San Francisco Chronicle
"His prose is quietly powerful, with a seductive simplicity that effortlessly transforms place into mood and mood into meaning."
-- Jim Ledbetter, The Village Voice
"In the work of Jesse Green, the New York guppie 'angst novel' comes of age.. . . Green's wisdom and maturity lift him above the pack."
-- Stephen Kyle, Bay Windows