Jay McInerney

Why is it so difficult to sustain a literary career in America? Joyce proposed that Ireland is an old sow who devours her young; America sometimes seems to resemble a meat-packing corporation that bloats its animals with hormones and chemical hype before slitting their throats. ‘There are no second acts in American lives,’ said F. Scott Fitzgerald, archetype of the American artist betrayed by the Judas kiss of fame, his early work overpraised, he himself declared a has-been just as he was achieving mastery. No one understood the process better than the author of The Great Gatsby, certainly not his fair-weather friend Hemingway, who tried to bluff his way into a venerable old age. Dos Passos became more invisible and more cranky with each book he published after the USA trilogy. Of the stars of the class of 1918, only William Faulkner survived gracefully, protected by a thick cloak of obscurity until the very end.

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[1] Writers at Work: The ‘Paris Review’ Interviews, Seventh Series, edited by George Plimpton. Secker, 384 pp., £17.50, 5 January, 0 436 37613 X.

[2] Truman Capote: A Memoir by John Malcolm Brinnin. Sidgwick, 182 pp., £9.95, 29 January, 0 283 99423 1.

[3] Quartet, 324 pp., £14.95, 19 May, 0 7043 2554 3.