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An American Genius

Patrick Parrinder

21 November 1991
The Runaway Soul 
by Harold Brodkey.
Cape, 835 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 224 03001 9
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... is only the most overweight first novel of all time. A sort of Midwestern version of Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’, its 800 pages of first-person narrative are formless, plotless and graceless. HaroldBrodkey, who began his career in the New Yorker in the Fifties, has been slowly maturing not a well-tempered masterpiece but the garrulous, profligate self-celebrations of a precocious adolescent who ...

On Wings of Song

Frederick Seidel

8 May 1986
... be hacked off and saved; The carcass goes to the dogs – after the servants drink the blood And defecate. There is another accent, that goes to Harvard, That anyone who does can have. My babysitter HaroldBrodkey will. One day I, too, I will. The servants dip their fingers in The blood and paint themselves, and smear each other’s blouses, With all the time in the world apparently until it’s time ...
6 February 1997
Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir 
by Mark Doty.
Cape, 305 pp., £16.99, October 1996, 0 224 04390 0
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by Mark Doty.
Cape, 95 pp., £7, July 1996, 0 224 04400 1
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This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death 
by Harold Brodkey.
Fourth Estate, 177 pp., £14.99, November 1996, 1 85702 546 6
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PWA: Looking Aids in the Face 
by Oscar Moore.
Picador, 185 pp., £6.99, November 1996, 0 330 35193 1
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... and offers no comfort, that the virus has no meaning beyond causing meaningless suffering, that death is a black hole, these possibilities remain all the closer to the page for not being entertained. HaroldBrodkey died of Aids in January 1996; Oscar Moore died in September 1996. Brodkey wrote about his illness for the New Yorker; Moore for the Guardian. Obviously, when they wrote their articles neither ...


Colm Tóibín

26 May 1994
Profane Friendship 
by Harold Brodkey.
Cape, 387 pp., £15.99, April 1994, 0 224 03775 7
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... One of the early chapters in HaroldBrodkey’s first novel The Runaway Soul is entitled ‘The River’. The narrator, after his father’s death, returns to a landscape which he had known in early childhood. Some of the prose is plain and ...


Jenny Turner

24 September 1992
High Cotton 
by Darryl Pinckney.
Faber, 295 pp., £14.99, August 1992, 0 571 16491 9
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... Pinckney’s first novel, and it is obviously a book which has taken years and years and revision after revision. It is dense and allusive, and pretty massive in scope and ambition. Pinckney, like HaroldBrodkey before him, is a contemporary writer who writes, not directly of and to the contemporary world, but with one eye cocked backwards to the golden days of the Modernist novel in English, and the ...

Beautiful People

Jonathan Coe

23 July 1992
Brightness Falls 
by Jay McInerney.
Bloomsbury, 416 pp., £15.99, May 1992, 0 7475 1152 7
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The Lost Father 
by Mona Simpson.
Faber, 506 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 571 16149 9
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Out with the Stars 
by James Purdy.
Peter Owen, 192 pp., £14.99, June 1992, 0 7206 0861 9
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... curtailed by – the crash of 1987. The sketch of Russell’s growing ambition is psychologically persuasive: we watch his best ideas and pet projects being blocked by his once encouraging boss, Harold Stone, and we see him being sweet-talked into the idea over lunch by a charismatic author, Victor Propp (HaroldBrodkey-like, he has been writing a massive novel for the last twenty years, with the ...


Ian Sansom: A novel about work

2 December 2004
Some Great Thing 
by Colin McAdam.
Cape, 358 pp., £12.99, March 2004, 9780224064552
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... craft and craftsmanship; but the truth is that in order to publish anything you have to be prepared to bodge and skimp: you have to believe that this, after all, will do. If you don’t, you’re HaroldBrodkey. If you still believe that writers work hard, go and live with one for a week, and the next time they’re whining about their sad and difficult lives pushing back the frontiers of human ...

Mid-Century Male

Christopher Glazek: Edmund White

19 July 2012
Jack Holmes and His Friend 
by Edmund White.
Bloomsbury, 390 pp., £18.99, January 2012, 978 1 4088 0579 4
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... t really gay: they were mostly married and closeted. In City Boy, White gives a list of ‘blue-chip artists’ – among them Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Susan Sontag, HaroldBrodkey and Robert Wilson – who kept their sexuality hidden from public view, something White views with antipathy: ‘We openly gay artists had to deal with the dismissive or condescending ...

Nothing in a Really Big Way

James Wood: Adam Mars-Jones

24 April 2008
by Adam Mars-Jones.
Faber, 525 pp., £18.99, April 2008, 978 0 571 21703 8
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... sheen of boredom by the chafe of daily detail. But it is impressive, given the odds stacked against it, how lively most of the book is, and how funny, too. Mars-Jones is challenging us, rather as HaroldBrodkey did in his enormous, microscopically narcissistic novel, The Runaway Soul, to keep up with the book’s massive deceleration. Unlike Brodkey, Mars-Jones is witty. So the novel displays an ...


James Wolcott: Rick Moody

19 September 2002
The Black Veil 
by Rick Moody.
Faber, 323 pp., £16.99, August 2002, 0 571 20056 7
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... more, including cheating at board-games), and yet one paragraph into the book and Moody is already playing fast and loose with the fingerpointing. It’s the sort of show-offy, loose-logic passage Harold Ross would have shot down by flagging with question marks signifying ‘Huh?’ Why, for example, is there no sheet on that adulterous bed? Isn’t it precisely the memory of one’s spouse that ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides

24 October 2019
Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... look like holdovers from the closeted past; it certainly drew scorn from writers who were out, loud and proud (I’m thinking of Edmund White’s complaints about ‘blue-chip gays’ like Sontag and HaroldBrodkey; with Vidal, he had a whole other slate of indictments). The future may look upon the closet-clingers more benignly, or at least more apathetically, as the labels of sexual identity peel away ...

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