Hassler (Emeritus, St. John's Univ., Minnesota) gives readers an over-the-shoulder glimpse at the creative process, self-doubt, and elation that accompanied the first of his nine novels, Staggerford (1977). In 1975, with six short stories having brought 85 rejection slips, a restless Hassler requested a one-year sabbatical from teaching English at a community college in Brainerd, Minnesota, in order to realize his dream of writing a novel. The result was Staggerford, a tragicomedy about a high school teacher that has now gone through 15 paperback printings. Despite his success, however, Hassler presumes too much in expecting his loyal following to snatch up what is essentially grist for a luncheon speech or a magazine article. Instead of providing glimpses of the embryonic ideas, structures, themes, and descriptions that crop up in the journals of John Cheever or F. Scott Fitzgerald, these journal entries sound already worked over for publication. Hassler does show how writers, in tenaciously grasping general principles of the craft, can still flounder. In fleshing out —The Bonewoman,— for example, he remarks that he knows how she looks, but not how she sounds: —You need more than one sentence from a person to get a good grasp of her voice, its timbre and tone.— Other entries, less valuable to aspiring writers, catalogue the minutiae of an author's routine (—I go through a lot of contortions when I write. I jump up from the typewriter and stride around the table. I flit from window to window—). Too often, Hassler stuffs these inventories with autobiographical filler, reflecting on his lonely sojourns in an isolated cabin and the reactions of family and friends to his crazed, but ultimately triumphant, pursuit of an impossible dream. When he focuses on the writer's craft, Hassler can be wonderfully revealing. But the rest of this could have been saved for the family album.
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