Given the grandiloquent gunk of so much of his prize-winning prose and the mottled portrait of his character that has surfaced since his death, the Selected Letters offer a surprising, substantial, likeable lift, an act of literary restoration that shows us the dedicated man inside the sacred monster and doubles as a time machine travelling through a championship season of American letters, when writers were more than content-providers and had the medals and scars to prove it. The novelists and poets in these pages – the stellar cast includes Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, Truman Capote, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Penn Warren, Peter Matthiessen, Philip Roth, Irwin Shaw and the always vivacious William Burroughs (‘He is an absolutely astonishing personage, with the grim mad face of Savonarola and a hideously tailored 1925 shit-coloured overcoat and scarf to match with a grey fedora pulled down tight around his ears. He reminded me of nothing so much as a mean old Lesbian’) – may have drunk, drugged, whored, boasted, feuded, flipped out and ploughed their talents into misbegotten mammoths (Jones’s Some Came Running, Mailer’s Ancient Evenings), but, even through a distorting lens, larger-than-life beats the small-time pantomime we have today.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
… James Wolcott reviews ‘Selected Letters of William Styron’ edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin — LRB 24 January 2013. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)