Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

A Smile in His Lifetime (abstract)

SmileInHisLifetimeCoverA Smile in His Lifetime

by Joseph Hansen

Published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston

Published 1981
292 pgs. • Find on


From the cover of the first edition

Praised by The New Yorker for his “real gift for storytelling—for character, for scene, for place,” and by Saturday Review as “a writer of taste and maturity,” Joseph Hansen here offers a major novel of intense power and frank sensuality. A Smile in His Lifetime is a masterful work, tender yet unsentimental, that explores love, need, and their attendant pain. Rarely has fiction cast so memorable or mature a vision on that oldest of themes, a love story.

By turns wry and poignant, A Smile in His Lifetime traces Whit Miller’s battered course from the bewildering break-up of a marriage he never understood, through a stormy relationship with another man, to the state most of us ultimately reach, loneliness. For Whit, the end of a marriage based on dependency begins his search for a bearable, self-sufficient existence. But Whit’s quest for fulfilling love or, alternatively, independence is punctuated by life’s hazards: by the destructiveness of sexual obsession, the emptiness of one-night stands, the hollowness of material success. Through Whit’s vulnerability, A Smile in His Lifetime comments on modern life with an emotional candor both disturbing and enthralling.

Joseph Hansen in London.A Smile in HIs Lifetime, by Roger Baker
Joseph Hansen in London. Photo by Roger Baker

A Smile in His Lifetime is, above all, unflinching in its portrayal of how people form and break attachments. In its broad scope, beautiful writing, and honesty, it is fiction destined to stand with Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers and Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man as one of the few great novels about sexuality and human relationships in our time.

Joseph Hansen is the author of the acclaimed Dave Brandstetter mystery series, which led the Los Angeles Times to call him “quite simply the most exciting and effective writer of the classic California private-eye novel working today.” His verse has appeared in The New Yorker, his stories in magazines as varied as South Dakota Review and Mystery Monthly. He was a founder in 1965 of the pioneering homosexual journal Tangents. In 1974 he was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts and lived and wrote for a time in England. He teaches writing at U.C.L.A. and lives with his wife, Jane, and a household of cats and dogs, in Los Angles.

Jacket design by Mark Handel.

Jacket photograph by David A. Hartman.

 ©2016 by The Tangent Group.

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