writing

A Separate Reality
Carroll & Graf, October 2006
Lambda Award Nominee for Debut Fiction

Buy it on Amazon

Click to buy it on Amazon

Robert Marshall’s novel A Separate Reality is set in Phoenix in the early seventies. Mark Grosfeld is a lonely, effeminate twelve year old whose parents are politically active liberal Jews. Mark meets Anna Voigt, a teacher who becomes his mentor. Anna, an ex-hippie poet, encourages Mark to write, and he becomes part of a circle of teenagers who smoke pot and meet at Anna’s house for poetry readings. She introduces him to the Beats, Zen Buddhism and the popular seventies pseudo- anthropologist, Carlos Castaneda, author of A Separate Reality. Mark goes on a semi-comic suburban vision quest, trying to conduct his life according to the teachings he uncovers in the books he finds through Anna. While his search progresses, the tensions in his family rise and Mark’s quest starts to take a strange and unexpected turn.
Marshall’s novel is a portrait of the artist as a young man in the seventies. It’s a novel about Jews in the sun-belt diaspora, sprinklers on dead grass, and the smell of creosote in the desert at night. It’s a story of rattle snakes and the death rattle of the sixties. It’s about Watergate and the history of the left from the Rosenbergs to McGovern. A Separate Reality is also a novel about grief and memory and the complex boundaries of self in a family. Most importantly, A Separate Reality is the story of a counter-cultural crisis of faith and the risks of the desire to be perfect.

“Marshall has a wonderful way of getting at truths… as good an encapsulation of adolescence as you’re likely to read.”
David Levithan, The Washington Post

“This quietly intelligent debut novel about one lonely, creative adolescent’s search for identity amid the indignities of middle-school life is precisely what most literary novels I’ve read this year are not: as deeply sincere as it is ironic. There are no clever turns of phrase here, nothing sardonic. Marshall’s is a gentle, but progressively urgent interweaving of idea and emotion that, in its exquisite loyalty to the rhythms and patterns of thought, lays bare the contact of the conscious mind with the unconscious one; the tension between the real and the unreal. . . . Like Holden Caufield and adolescent narrators everywhere, Mark is painfully aware of falsity, but in Marshall’s hands, this awareness is elevated to the level of a philosophical inquiry.”    Debra Liese, The Literary Review
Read more

“Describing the plot of this book does not do it justice, and maybe that is true of any terrific novel. It is about growing up gay and Jewish in a middle class family in the seventies. The whole book is rather calm, it calmly renders an era with a Proustian leisure, yet it is also a page turner. The delectation of an exquisite banality, the slow earnest longing that has not quite found its proper object, the humid passions and blindspots of the nuclear unit, the young fag as poet, as perfectionist, whose sensibility and aspirations are pitched so high–I experienced wave after wave of recognition.”    Robert Gluck, author of Jack the Modernist

“Robert Marshall’s unique voice, wry intelligence, sly humor, and genuine understanding of the family romance infuse his first novel. A Separate Reality beautifully depicts the poignant and bizarre condition called adolescence. It’s a wonderful, imaginative work.”    Lynne Tillman, author of No Lease on Life

“A steady-handed portrayal of growing up weird in ’70s suburbia.”    Timeout.com

“A gentle dream of a novel, precise and careful, about the end of childhood. Robert Marshall takes us deep into the life of a precocious twelve-year-old boy in Arizona in the 1970s. Reading this book was just like being twelve again, with all its confusing complications. A very original, serious, heartfelt piece of work.”    Christopher Bram, author of Gods and Monsters

“Robert Marshall casts a spell with his translucent prose and his startling powers of perception. With sensitivity, candor, and disarming humor, he offers a fresh look at the making of an artist. A Separate Reality evokes all the doubts and indignities of adolescence, as well as the deep ambivalence of belonging to an intellectual family. Balanced gracefully between the everyday and the mystical, this novel achieves a transcendence of its own.”    Sarah Bynum, author of Madeleine is Sleeping

“A beautifully understated and evocative rendering of what it feels like to grow up as a ‘misfit.’
I loved the prose’s fidelity to thought’s careening process.  Robert Marshall’s closeups of youthful sadness and elation, like Truffaut’s or Bresson’s or Solondz’s, have a bitter, alienated clarity.”
   Wayne Koestenbaum, author of The Queen’s Throat

“Robert Marshall’s wry, delicate prose rejects every cliche about boyhood, in search of fresh insights about family, the suburban West, childhood longing, and consciousness itself.”    Clifford Chase, author of Winkie

“Marshall conveys a photorealist snapshot of consciousness that had me wincing in self-recognition.”    Paul Russell, Lambda Book Report

“Anyone who’s made even a cursory examination of websites like MySpace or LiveJournal could be forgiven for thinking that the mind of a teenager is not a place anyone would want to spend a lot of time. A Separate Reality will take you past that skepticism into the psyche of Mark, and remind you of when you were younger and everything was vivid and raw. Like all teens, young Mark desperately wants to both carve out his own identity, and to fit in. What makes his story so interesting is that he is not just looking for his purpose in his school’s pecking order; he’s looking for his purpose in life, the meaning of life. He tries out philosophies like other kids try out peer groups, struggling to make sense of Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism and, of course, the works of Carlos Castaneda . . . There’s gentle humor in the treatment of his vague but intense desire to transcend the mundane. Mark is as intelligent as he is creative and spiritual, and his observations of the world around him are razor sharp, painting an intriguing picture of the dynamics of his family life — at once specific and universal — that is as fascinating as his inner life.”    Brian Jewell, Bay Windows

“an engaging coming-of-age story”    Bay Area Reporter

“Defining self, coming to terms with roles, negotiating difference, are the themes that Marshall plays out with arresting honesty and restraint. What he has created is a compelling look into what it means to be different at a time in most young people’s lives when they just want to be the same, providing helpful insights into how children and families confront these issues and construct their own realities.”    Vicki Cabot, Greater Phoenix Jewish News

“A remarkably vivid writer”    The Orlando Sentinel

“Uncannily self-aware”    C. Murphy Hebert, Phoenix New Times

“A first-rate portrait of adolescence with all its storm and stress”    Morton Teicher, Jewish Post and Opinion