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Prospero’s Son

Life, Books, Love, and Theater

“This book is the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciousnesses and almost two epochs.” That’s how Edmund Gosse opened Father and Son, the classic 1907 book about his relationship with his father. Seth Lerer’s Prospero’s Son is, as fits our latter days, altogether more complicated, layered, and multivalent, but at its heart is that same problem: the fraught relationship between fathers and sons.
At the same time, Lerer’s memoir is about the power of books and theater, the excitement of stories in a young man’s life, and the transformative magic of words and performance. A flamboyantly performative father, a teacher and lifelong actor, comes to terms with his life as a gay man. A bookish boy becomes a professor of literature and an acclaimed expert on the very children’s books that set him on his path in the first place. And when that boy grows up, he learns how hard it is to be a father and how much books can, and cannot, instruct him. Throughout these intertwined accounts of changing selves, Lerer returns again and again to stories—the ways they teach us about discovery, deliverance, forgetting, and remembering.
“A child is a man in small letter,” wrote Bishop John Earle in the seventeenth century. “His father hath writ him as his own little story.” With Prospero’s Son, Seth Lerer acknowledges the author of his story while simultaneously reminding us that we all confront the blank page of life on our own, as authors of our lives.

168 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2013

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Medieval Studies


"An affecting memoir. . . . Thoughtful and deeply felt . . . an intellectually and emotionally satisfying reading experience."


"A testament to Lerer’s passion for his work, this wise, literary, and allusion-dense book will strike a sympathetic chord with all involved in teaching or reading literature."

Library Journal

"I couldn’t put this book down. ’Memoir’ doesn’t begin to do it justice. Prospero’s Son is a beautifully observed and often haunting reflection about how we get here and what we leave behind."

James Shapiro, author of A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

"An absorbing and moving book, combining a scholar’s thoughts on the force of reading, especially reading in childhood, with episodes in a personal memoir, an intricate texture of stories and anecdotes that track the author’s education into life, into its forms of theater and forms of magic--often failed theater, failed magic. For all the power that he attributes to story-telling, Lerer knows its costs, knows that there are moments when stories, too, fail, or trap us, or ask to be revised, re-seen. It is a beautifully composed work, beguiling in its unfolding, weaving and reweaving its threads of attention, recollection, and allusion. After two readings, the book continues to surprise."

Kenneth Gross, author of Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life

"Prospero’s Son glitters like one of the gems that fascinated Seth Lerer as a child. After this riveting read, with its lovingly chosen details and ever-inventive ways of recreating the author’s life, I feel chastened and somehow unsettled.  It is as if he has shared his life and yet remained inviolate, for he writes these pages with an aura of calm, exquisitely titrating the emotional distance at each moment with delicacy--and yet pain seeps through.  Like the rain. . . .  I could not put it down. The book works: It casts a spell."

Ellen Handler Spitz, author of The Brightening Glance

Table of Contents

Prologue First Love

One Rough Magic
Two The Abduction from the Seraglio
Three Enter Tubal
Four Blithe Spirits
Five Vaseline University
Six Iceland
Seven Upriver
Eight Kaddish
Nine Lithium Dreams
Ten Beauty and the Beast

Epilogue The Soldier’s Tale


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