Thursday, October 15, 2009


---To write of Harold Brodkey is to speak of the dead and I fear of the really dead in the sense that he is now a forgotten writer... and so quickly he is gone into both the real and the metaphorical earth.

---I was thinking this as I was reading James Wood on the collected so-called stories of Lydia Davis. I can't be bothered to even describe his writing or Davis. It is all a question of sheer human perversity: how can this very good translator be wasting her time writing so-called stories that will not survive a moment beyond her death when she could have been finishing her translations of Michel Leiris, for instance?

---But I have before me a photo-copy of the five tabloid pages that James Wood devoted to a review and interview with Harold Brodkey in The Guardian (London, July 20-21, 1991.

---I must assume anyone reading this blog knows the work of Brodkey and keeps in a treasured place at least two of his books: STORIES IN AN ALMOST CLASSICAL MODE and THE RUNAWAY SOUL. Right there near THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE BY Hannah Green and PARADISO by Jose Lezama Lima

---The interview and then the review is startling because the name of Brodkey never passes through Wood's typewriter since he moved to the US and began his slog through the pages of The New Republic, The New Yorker and into the damp boring rooms of Harvard. To have an enthusiasim for a writer like Brodkey would be the kiss of the death as it seems the consensus is sadly that we (they) were all mistaken abouthim and his writing; it is just a bad memory and a man like Wood can make no mistakes, not one. He well knows that if there is that one mistake as happened to Denis Donoghue when he panned rightly the dread Frank McCourt's first novel for the New York Times, he will not be asked back to write for whichever organ he is caressing at the moment.

---In the course of the Guardian article: "I had managed to get hold of the typescript of The Runaway Soul, had read its 1,300 pages and was over-whelmed with it.... unlike anything in contemporary fiction. It is nakedly original."


"Brodkey's prose is unlike any other writer's in the English language. It is intensely personal(most of his writing is about his childhood) and shockingly obsessive. Its originality, which is oppressive in its density..."

"a man whose writing is courageous and original and possibly great...

"Brodkey's novel certainly has the reek of glory. But greatness is like the Seraph. How can we know it? How can we know yet if Brodkey's novel is great? It has the ambition of greatness, the daring. But its oddity and its singularity bewilder the reader. It needs the sifting of posterity...

---Well, I guess Wood has done that.

---Have you noticed that when a writer gets to a certain place, in particular into the places such as where Wood has taken up residence something is always lost and that something is evident in James Wood on Lydia Davis in The New Yorker. Only John Updike ever escaped this well-lit prison and then only rarely as for instance when he would take up the books of Robert Pinget.


Jim H. said...

Thanks for reminding me of HB, and the experience of reading him. It's been a long time. Maybe it's time to re-look at him.

Jim H.

bowwowboy said...

Belated comment, but I just finished reading Edmund White's sad/hilarious reminiscences of this forgotten (White's adjective as well as yours) faux-genius in City Boy and wanted you to know that you're hardly alone in your judgment. Brodkey was a tireless self-promoter who, as it turns out, didn't have all that much to promote...except his gargantuan ego.

odysseas said...

Here is an audio recording of the Wood/Brodkey interview: