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Diary

Zachary Leader: Oscar Talk at the Huntington

16 April 1998
... who claims to have heard it while floating in a lifeboat; but no one else among the 705 survivors is reported to have heard it. And all eight musicians in the orchestra drowned, Wallace Hartley, leader of the White Star Orchestra, with his violin case strapped to his chest. These details can be found in the 40-page booklet accompanying Whitcomb’s Titanic – Music as Heard on the Fateful Voyage ...

More aggressive, dear!

Zachary Leader

31 July 1997
My Aces, My Faults 
by Nick Bollettieri and Dick Schaap.
Robson, 346 pp., £17.95, June 1997, 1 86105 087 9
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... What happened to Britain’s men in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon? Twenty-four hours earlier, Tim Henman had beaten Richard Krajicek, last year’s winner and the No. 4 seed. In his first match Greg Rusedski had eliminated Mark Philippousis, winner at Queen’s and the No. 7 seed. Although both Britons (Rusedski was raised in Canada but his mother is British) had already defeated more highly ranked ...

Plummeting Deep into Cold Pop

Zachary Leader: Colson Whitehead

13 December 2001
John Henry Days 
by Colson Whitehead.
Fourth Estate, 389 pp., £12, June 2001, 1 84115 569 1
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... Colson Whitehead’s first novel, The Intuitionist (1999), won several prizes and extravagant praise from American critics. Whitehead is black and comparisons were made to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed. John Updike has called him ‘blithely gifted’, ‘the young African-American writer to watch’. Whitehead’s new novel, John Henry Days, is longer and more ambitious than The Intuitionist ...

Cartoon Quality

Zachary Leader

6 December 1979
Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright 
by Steven Millhauser.
Routledge, 305 pp., £4.95
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A Prize Paradise 
by Oliver Pritchett.
Eyre Methuen, 171 pp., £4.95
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A Revenger’s Comedy 
by Derwent May.
Chatto, 191 pp., £5.95
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... Edwin Mullhouse etc is by far the most interesting and inventive of the three novels under review. It is also, with all its knowing brilliance, the most irritating – relentlessly clever, frequently cloying. The story it tells is that of the life and aesthetically pleasing death by suicide of Edwin, 11-year-old author of Cartoons, a novel, we are told, of genius. It is also that of Edwin’s biographer ...
21 February 1991
Writer’s Block 
by Zachary Leader.
Johns Hopkins, 325 pp., £19.50, January 1991, 0 8018 4032 5
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... who might have done it but were denied the chance, the mute inglorious Miltons. And that raises a historical question about women such as Virginia Woolf’s imaginary Judith Shakespeare, which ZacharyLeader, determined to leave no aspect of the topic unexamined, tries to answer in his final pages. Peculiar to one profession it may be, but as this intelligent, and only from time to time laborious ...

Bad Dads

Zachary Leader

6 April 1995
In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of a Lost War 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 210 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 7475 1919 6
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Tallien: A Brief Romance 
by Frederic Tuten.
Marion Boyars, 152 pp., £9.95, November 1994, 0 7145 2990 7
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Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story 
by Max Apple.
Little, Brown, 241 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 316 91241 7
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... Personal identity, according to Locke, is a creation of memory. The American writer Tobias Wolff has already published one volume of memoirs. Now, at the age of 49, he has produced a second. Who can blame him? His father was a conman and impostor: Arthur Samuels Wolff, aka Arthur Saunders Wolff III, aka Saunders Answell-Wolff III, the ‘Duke’ of Tobias’s brother Geoffrey’s memoir, The Duke of ...

Watch with mother

Zachary Leader

23 May 1996
Eastern Sun, Winter Moon 
by Gary Paulsen.
Gollancz, 244 pp., £16.99, April 1996, 9780575063198
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The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord’s Son 
by Guanlong Cao, translated by Guanlong Cao and Nancy Moskin.
California, 256 pp., £19.95, April 1996, 0 520 20405 0
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... Being a boy is not always easy. These two childhood memoirs differ in important respects, but they agree about the problematic nature of boyhood pleasure. Gary Paulsen’s ‘Autobiographical Odyssey’ follows in the wake of his 1995 memoir, Winterdance, a much-praised account of dog-sled racing in Alaska. Though he is only now gaining a reputation in Britain, Paulsen has published over 150 books ...

Whitlam Fictions

Zachary Leader

16 February 1989
Kisses of the Enemy 
by Rodney Hall.
Faber, 622 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 0 571 15091 8
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Postcards from Surfers 
by Helen Garner.
Bloomsbury, 180 pp., £11.95, January 1989, 0 7475 0272 2
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Forty-Seventeen 
by Frank Moorhouse.
Faber, 175 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 571 15210 4
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... The most striking feature of contemporary Australian writing – or so it is now claimed – is the robust health of its fiction, notably of two contrasting fictional modes: the short story and the massive novel of national identity. Poetry, the dominant genre of the late Sixties and early Seventies, no longer holds undisputed pride of place, a development attributed in part to the proliferation of ...
22 June 1989
Ripley Bogle 
by Robert McLiam Wilson.
Deutsch, 273 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 233 98392 9
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The Burnt House 
by Adam Lively.
Simon and Schuster, 264 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 671 69999 7
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Two Women of London: The Strange Case of Ms Jekyll and Mrs Hyde 
by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 121 pp., £10.99, June 1989, 0 571 15242 2
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The Magic Drum 
by Emma Tennant.
Viking, 142 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 670 82556 5
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... Robert McLiam Wilson was born in 1964, which means that Ripley Bogle, his first novel, was written in his early twenties. The novel’s qualities are those of immodest youth: it is ambitious, energetic, self absorbed, bursting with hormonal vehemence and self-consciousness. Structure and sequence (or plot) are not its strong points. The good bits are bits, hit you straight on, and mostly have to do ...

Going Postal

Zachary Leader

5 October 1995
The Paperboy 
by Pete Dexter.
Viking, 307 pp., £15, May 1995, 0 670 86066 2
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Third and Indiana 
by Steve Lopez.
Viking, 305 pp., £10.99, April 1995, 0 670 86132 4
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... The no-bullshit newsman as hero is a staple of film and genre fiction. To Pete Dexter, though, the type is deeply suspect. Dexter has been a newspaperman most of his working life, first as a reporter, for the local West Palm Beach Post (1971-72), then as a staff writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News (1972-84) and now for the Sacramento Bee. He has also written five novels, the best-known ...

Sorry to go on like this

Ian Hamilton: Kingsley Amis

1 June 2000
The Letters of Kingsley Amis 
edited by Zachary Leader.
HarperCollins, 1208 pp., £24.99, May 2000, 0 00 257095 5
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... This ‘fcuker’ is his typewriter, or ‘wordprinter’, as he calls it. Some of the book’s most endearing moments involve Amis in conflict with his mischievous machine. (The wondrously thorough ZacharyLeader wisely retains all of Amis’s mistypes, as though he, too, suspects that quite a few were half-deliberate. With ‘though’, for instance, the suggestion is that any word dumb enough to ...

Daisy packs her bags

Zachary Leader: The Road to West Egg

21 September 2000
Trimalchio: An Early Version of ‘The Great Gatsby’ 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by James L.W. West III.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £30, April 2000, 0 521 40237 9
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... setting. At the first of Gatsby’s parties, in Chapter 3 of the published version, he requests that the orchestra play ‘Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World’, a piece the orchestra leader describes as having ‘attracted so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May’. Nick, the novel’s narrator, is vaguely superior about the piece: ‘The nature of Mr Tostoff’s composition eluded ...

No Accident

Zachary Leader: Gore Vidal’s Golden Age

21 June 2001
The Golden Age: A Novel 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 467 pp., £17.99, October 2000, 0 316 85409 3
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... Of course I like my country,’ Gore Vidal has written. ‘After all, I’m its current biographer.’ With the publication of The Golden Age, the biography draws to a close. The novels which comprise it, to list them in order of the historical periods they cover, are Burr (1973), Lincoln (1984), 1876 (1976, of course), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1989), Washington, DC (1967) and now The Golden Age ...
16 March 2000
Morgan: American Financier 
by Jean Strouse.
Harvill, 816 pp., £25, June 1999, 9781860463556
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... Size matters – especially in business. In the quarter-century following the American Civil War, consolidation – in the form of trusts, mergers, monopolies, syndicates and cartels – transformed the US economy, revolutionising transport, communications and industrial production. The industrialists and financiers who shaped the new economy regarded its international ascendancy as natural and inevitable ...

Frognal Days

Zachary Leader: Files on the Fifties

4 June 1998
Previous Convictions: A Journey Through the Fifties 
by Nora Sayre.
Rutgers, 464 pp., £27.95, April 1997, 0 8135 2231 5
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... Nora Sayre’s account of American intellectual life in the Fifties, part memoir, part documentary record, begins with her writer parents and the people she met in their living room in New York: Edmund Wilson, James Thurber, Walker Evans, James M. Cain, Nunnally Johnson, S.J. Perelman, Dawn Powell, Joseph Mitchell and John O’Hara. Many of these celebrated figures, artists and authors approaching ...

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