A Self-Portrait in the Year of the High Commission on Love

978-1-62288-244-1 Paperback
6 x 9 x 0 in
250 pp.
Pub Date: 10/24/2023
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  • Paperback $24.00
In his thirteenth book, acclaimed poet, critic, and memoirist David Biespiel turns to the novel to tell a story about Houston that has few, if any, parallels in Texas literature.

It's the first year of the Reagan era.

Jon "Duke" Wain, a charmed 18-year-old growing up in Meyerland, Houston's historic Jewish section, who is the heir apparent to his family's generations of rabbis, finds a companion for drinking, drugs, and living wildly in Manolo Salazar, his gay best friend, who has grown up in Hispanic Gulfgate, heir to his own father's evangelical ministry.
On a Saturday night in September, in 1981, the night Nolan Ryan pitches his record fifth no-hitter at the Astrodome, the two scions light out for Galveston Island, then heading down the Texas coastline, intent on not returning home.

Binging among an assortment of dangerous revelers, Duke meets Caroline Cahill, a haunting young woman who turns out to be a runaway from West Texas, and whose mother Duke discovers he may know a troubling secret about. Confronted at the threshold of life and fate, Duke wonders if Caroline Cahill's story is the route to putting his birthright behind him. The answer will change his life.

A Self-Portrait in the Year of the High Commission on Love is about the tensions between ambition and faith, duty and desire, art and life—and about those whose lives must live with the consequences of choosing one over the other.

"David Biespiel brilliantly captures the endless energy and humming danger of youth, the way a single wild night can feel the passage from our incomprehensible past to our unknowable future. A Self-Portrait in the Year of the High Commission on Love is as smart, as funny and as searingly honest as the two young writers at its hard-beating heart. I gobbled it up, like a B-side of The Savage Detectives, like a thinking-man's Dazed and Confused.” — Jess Walter, National Book Award finalist and author of The Angel of Rome

 "Some novels you casually date and others are a quick ride to the courthouse. I fell hard for A Self-Portrait in the Year of the High Commission on Love and its two young poets. Excited by the molecular friction of unconsolidated possibility, escaping home like Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell carving out a place of freedom founded on poetry and debauchery, Duke and Salazar speak in the holy dialogue of reinvention, where a running joke can become a religion, and every fight, a prayer.” — Vanessa Veselka, National Book Award long-listed author of The Great Offshore Ground 
"This is a classic American tale and a damn good story. Every sentence radiates in the dazzling lyric style David Biespiel has wholly made his own. It is a measure of the worth that A Self-Portrait in the Year of the High Commission on Love casts Duke as a contemporary Huck Finn, looking for something more and possibly discovering it.” — Whitney Otto, New York Times bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt


Published by Stephen F. Austin University Press