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Adam Begley

Adam Begley recently completed his dissertation, on the literature of the Stock Market crash of 1929, for a Stanford University doctorate in American literature. He lives in New York.

Harold Brodkey, whose debut collection of stories, First Love and Other Sorrows, was greeted with well-deserved acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic when it appeared in1958, has produced a hefty new collection: Stories in an Almost Classical Mode. During the intervening thirty years his reputation, bolstered by occasional stories in the New Yorker and other glossy American magazines, has grown formidable. Such is the Brodkey mystique that his name, reverently intoned, conjures up an image of the Author at work on High Art. He has yet to publish a novel, but some of the new stories are novella-length – reportedly fragments from Party of Animals, his singularly famous unfinished, unpublished magnum opus. Besides offering a preview of coming attractions, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, which includes stories written over a twenty-five-year span, charts the evolution of Brodkey’s fiction. His unexceptional subject-matter (the difficult intimate relations of middle and upper-middle-class white Americans, many of them Jews) hasn’t changed at all: but his voice, and his whole approach to this material, has changed greatly.’

Sad Stories

Adam Begley, 5 January 1989

The June 1947 issue of Life Magazine contains an article called ‘Young US Writers’, a round-up of 11 promising post-war authors. Of the 11, three are well-known today; of this famous trio, one is still alive, the other two subjects of recently published biographies. The first page of the feature is dominated by a large photograph of a superbly arrogant Truman Capote – 22 years old, tiny, but potent. On the next page is a photograph (somewhat smaller) of Jean Stafford – 31 years old, severe, distant, possibly beautiful. On the very last page is a small shot of Gore Vidal, who at the preposterous age of 21 is the author of two novels. Vidal looks directly into the camera, sullen and contentious. John Chamberlain, who wrote the text, declares Stafford the ‘most brilliant’ of the lot. By this time she had published two novels; her career as a short-story writer was just getting under way. Unlike Capote and Vidal, Stafford never became a celebrity, and her reputation as a brilliant writer faded with the years; sadly, she is now remembered as much for having been Robert Lowell’s first wife as for her novels and short stories. It is testimony to Capote’s uncanny knack for self-promotion that at the time of the Life feature, he had produced only a handful of short stories: his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, would not appear for another six months. And whereas Stafford, who wrote very little fiction during the last twenty years of her life, disappeared from public view, superseded by a younger generation of writers, Capote kept himself in the limelight until his death in 1984, long after his creative output had dwindled drastically.’

Deathward

Adam Begley, 24 November 1988

John Kennedy was killed 25 years ago, on 22 November 1963. The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known familiarly as the Warren Commission, issued its report a little less than a year later. In the report, members of the commission allowed that certain questions remained unanswered, but their conclusion left no room for doubt: ‘The commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy.’ Oswald ‘acted alone’, as did his assassin, Ruby. Along with the report, the commission released 26 volumes of testimony, exhibits and scientific analysis. If the Warren Report was meant, in part, to squelch rumours of conspiracy, to diffuse a nation’s doubt and anxiety, then it failed miserably: its pat conclusions (eventually undermined by the 1979 Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations) were ignored, spurned in favour of those 26 laden volumes and the jumble of confused and contradictory evidence they contain – the playground of the conspiracy junkie.’

Less and More

Adam Begley, 15 September 1988

Raymond Carver, acclaimed shot-story writer and poet, died on 2 August. A painstaking craftsman, he wrote most often about working-class Americans whose lives are, or have been, on the verge of collapse. Broken marriages, alcoholism, poverty, and acute, debilitating anxiety – these things rule the daily existence of his characters. Fashioned out of grim material, the stories are sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally funny, always disturbing.

Photomania

Emilie Bickerton, 22 November 2018

For all Félix Nadar’s gifts with the camera, his interests constantly flitted elsewhere. He was, in the words of his friend Jules Verne, ‘enamoured of the impossible’.

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Updike

Christian Lorentzen, 4 June 2014

‘I had​ this foresight,’ John Updike’s mother, Linda, once told a journalist, ‘that if I married his father the results would be amazing.’ Was Updike amazing?...

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