Merlis, Mark 1950-
MERLIS, Mark 1950-
PERSONAL: Born March 9, 1950, in Framingham, MA; son of Jerome (a physician) and Grace (a laboratory director; maiden name, Logan) Merlis; partner of Robert Ashe (in information management). Education: Wesleyan University, B.A., 1971; Brown University, M.A., 1976.
ADDRESSES: Home—6278 Ingham Rd., New Hope, PA 18938. Agent—Leslie Breed, Leslie Breed Literary Agency, 65 East Scott St., No. 12-E, Chicago, IL 60610. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Consultant and novelist. Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Baltimore, administrator, 1977-87; Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC, policy analyst, 1987-95; Institute for Health Policy Solutions, Washington, DC, senior fellow, 1996-2001; independent health policy consultant, 2001—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, Los Angeles Times, and Ferro-Grumley Award, both 1995, both for American Studies; Lambda Literary Award, 1999, for An Arrow's Flight.
American Studies, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1994.
An Arrow's Flight, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998, published as Pyrrhus, Fourth Estate (London, England), 1999.
Man about Town, Fourth Estate (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Los Angeles Times Book Review, Newsday, Out, Lambda Book Report, Health Affairs, and Gay and Lesbian Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A new novel.
SIDELIGHTS: While by day Mark Merlis is employed as a health policy consultant, a field in which he has worked for over fifteen years, in his spare time he pursues a more creative bent: writing. As Merlis told Lambda Book Report contributor Martin Wilson: "While a lot of writers—maybe gay writers especially—are at their best when drawing on their own experience, I find that my past is an empty well. I think I write more believably when I tell a bunch of lies about some people who never existed." Merlis's "bunch of lies" have been artfully crafted into several well received novels, among them his award-winning debut novel American Studies and Man about Town.
In American Studies sixty-something gay government employee Reeve is laid up in the hospital and reflects on his intellectual mentor, a closeted professor named Tom Slater, with whom he had once slept and who committed suicide years before. Thoughts of Reeve's past intertwine with the present, as work matters and his lustful thoughts about his temporary—and straight—hospital roommate interject themselves. Christopher Bram enthused over the novel in his review for the Lambda Book Report, calling American Studies "an amazing first novel, a beautifully written work of historical fiction, an impressive feat of imaginative ventriloquism." While finding the novel's conclusion disappointing, Bram nonetheless commended Merlis's circular plotting as "a virtuoso performance."
Merlis draws on ancient history for his novel An Arrow's Flight—published in Great Britain as Pyrrhus. Dubbed "camp fiction at its most original" by London Times contributor Matthew Pryor, the novel replays the events surrounding the Trojan War within an modern milieu. The murderer of King Priam and son Astyanax according to legend, twenty-one-year-old Pyrrhus is here a narcissistic table dancer and gay prostitute who is advised by Odysseus to join the army and fulfil his destiny: destroying Troy. While following that destiny, Pyrrhus does not relinquish his lust for life, or his belief in his life choices. An Arrow's Flight "is filtered through a post-Freudian, post-Stonewall consciousness," commented Michael Arditti in a review for the London Independent, adding that Merlis outfits his characters "with all the accouterments of twentieth-century materialism." While Guardian contributor Nigel Spivey had reservations about the novel, writing that Merlis's "dialogue . . . not only lacks invention, but any sort of energy," a Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review contributor disagreed, noting that the author "takes beauty and sex seriously, and lavishes on them a language that is often lyrical and always lively." Library Journal reviewer Daniel Starr praised Merlis's "audacious retelling of the fall of Troy" for "offering insights into modern gay life and identity." Calling the work a "boldly conceived narrative of uncommon artistry," a Publishers Weekly contributor repeated Starr's sentiments, calling remarkable the author's "ability to find and articulate grace in the ordinary process of human exchange."
Man about Town returns Merlis's fans to the present day, and into the Washington, D.C.-based life of middle-aged financial analyst Joel Lingeman. Upset at the departure of his longtime lover, Joel finds himself forced to return to the bar scene he left decades ago. While finding Man about Town "less insightful" than Merlis's previous efforts, a Kirkus reviewer nonetheless found the book to be "carefully worded" and full of "thougthful reflections that sing with poignancy." Echoing that view, Times contributor Anthea Lawson described the novel's narrative as "cynically and enjoyably detached."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1998, Whitney Scott, review of AnArrow's Flight, p. 1967.
Choice, February, 1995, J. J. Marchesani, review of American Studies, p. 936.
Guardian, July 11, 1998, Nigel Spivey, review of Pyrrhus, p. 10.
Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, summer, 1999, review of An Arrow's Flight, p. 48.
Independent (London, England), March 16, 1998, Michael Arditti, review of Pyrrhus, p. 5.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2003, review of Man aboutTown, p. 422.
Lambda Book Report, November-December, 1994, Christopher Bram, review of American Studies, p. 18; August, 1998, Jim Marks, review of An Arrow's Flight, p. 22; January, 2002, Martin Wilson, "Watch-the-Sausage-Get-Made Congress Stuff," p. 30.
Library Journal, August, 1994, Brian Geary, review of American Studies, p. 132; August, 1988, Daniel Starr, review of An Arrow's Flight, p. 132; April 15, 2003, Brian Kenney, review of Man about Town, p. 123.
New York Times Book Review, July 6, 2003, Chris Marquis, review of Man about Town, p. 20.
New Yorker, October 24, 1994, Craig Seligman, review of American Studies, p. 97.
Publishers Weekly, June 27, 1994, review of AmericanStudies, p. 55; August 24, 1998, review of An Arrow's Flight, p. 51; April 21, 2003, review of Man about Town, p. 38.
Times (London, England), March 20, 1999, Matthew Pryor, review of Pyrrhus, p. 20; April 9, 2003, Anthea Lawson, review of Man about Town, p. 20.
Times Literary Supplement, November 10, 1995, Michael Gorra, review of American Studies, p. 22.
Mark Merlis Web site,http://www.markmerlis.com/ (January 25, 2004).