Monday, February 11, 2008



I have been reading A STEP FROM DEATH by Larry Woiwode in preparation for a review.
Already I know I will not be allowed to go on about THE GRANDMOTHERS by Glenway Wescott and possibly THE DEATH OF THE HOUSE by Hannah Green because there are space considerations which I understand and accept.

For the longest time I have believed that if I had to pick one modern American novel as the best American novel I would say it is THE GRANDMOTHERS. The novel is basically about a Wisconsin family and its dispersal across the country and overseas. The novel is made of a number of voices and the prose is poised and eloquent.

Edward Dahlberg, the severest and most stringent of critics, held Wescott in high esteem and was one of Wescott's few supporters as a literary artist in the long teasing out of his public life...

Wescott did write one more significant novel THE PILGRIM HAWK but his whole career revolved around THE GRANDMOTHERS and the title story for GOODBYE WISCONSIN.

I have mentioned him before as he is cited in the Julian Green's diaries. I remember talking with Green about Wescott who Green still vividly remembered fifty years after they had met for the first time. We talked of Hemingway's great hatred of Wescott which was a dreary mixture of jealousy, envy and sexual incompleteness on Hemingway's part.

All of Wescott's career revolved around the great success of THE GRANDMOTHERS. And it is this sort of success and burden that Larry Woiwode also shares: all of his books both before and after are planets revolving about the great sun of his BEYOND THE BEDROOM WALL. Woiwode has not to date been able to find his THE PILGRIM HAWK as he has made other choices in his life.

In my little garden Woiwode nudges Wescott over a little bit...

In A STEP FROM DEATH Woiwode again takes up the decisive role that William Maxwell played in his life. And I would like eventually to write about Maxwell but the Library of America as foolishly published the first of two volumes devoted to Maxwell but are forcing us to wait until September for the second volume.

Hannah Green and I went to the memorial service for Glenway Wescott and we talked with William Maxwell. He too joined us in understanding just how important THE GRANDMOTHERS was to all of us and he shared our dismay thatit seemed to have fallen into a sort of obscurity...

Wescott was a public figure. He was president of one of the American academies... he was "distinguished"... but is as far as I know, in this country at least, the exception to the rule: such figures are usually deeply rotten at the literary core...


In two days I have to have an operation.

One of those walk in walk out things but still I am to be put to sleep for a time.

Do you all remember FERNWOOD TONIGHT when Martin Mull had on the guy with the DRIVE -IN DO IT YOURSELF SURGICAL CLINIC?

It is unclear how many days or weeks of pain afterward.

The sort of operation called routine.

The beginning of old age or just another sure step like a broken tooth--- and I got one of those for tomorrow...

One thinks of not waking up.

Edward Dahlberg thought it normal to think of suicide at least once a day.

Maybe the wife will hit the medical malpractice jackpot.

She won't have to throw out by herself all the literary rubbish I leave behind...

I have to call it that: what else to call unpublished books?

To echo what Lawrence Durrell once told me in 1970 in New York City on West 110th Street: What has posterity ever done for me?

Of course these unpublished books are not rubbish but they will be treated as rubbish...

Enough of me.

Here is a nice bit from THE APOCRYPHA by ROBERT PINGET (translated by Barbara Wright):

When you think of all the work that must have gone into getting all those papers together, classifying them, numbering them, and the fiddling about with them and rewriting from beginning to end that shatteringly incoherent narrative, those cries of distress, maniac's visions, expressions of anguish, premonitions...
This never-ending old age, while the days are dawning anew, it was no use marking the pages it doesn't apply any more, a book it's impossible to read without suffering disaster.