Books by Michael Herr

WALTER WINCHELL by Michael Herr
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 18, 1990

A movie novel of tremendous sweep and detail, zapping us with the America of the Thirties and Forties as seen through the eyes of gossip-monger Walter Winchell. Herr, the jivey author of Dispatches (1977), undertakes a spacious picture of US society in pre- and post-WW II and nails it all down in 156 pages. This tour de force presents itself as a movie script, with synoptic montages, scene cuts, and dialogue in script form. Its compression releases a great brio to the page, sends a flow of images racing over the reader's mind, and strips to bare bone a form first handled by John Steinbeck in his novelizations of The Moon Is Down and Of Mice and Men. All these storytelling smarts would get Herr by on their own, but he reaches masterfully beyond mere form by invoking our sympathy for the kind of "great villain" Henry Fielding drew so delightfully in Jonathan Wild Few would think that Broadway columnist Walter Winchell would lend himself to such treatment. But Herr limns Citizen Winchell from childhood to old age with deep understanding, and achieves a peak of pure energy with Winchell lording it at the Stork Club and rat-a-tat-tatting his radio show. Not only does Winchell stride off the page with his compulsions edged and shaded to perfection, but his cronies as well receive strong treatment: affecting scenes abound with Winchell's great buddy sportswriter Damon Runyon, Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley, and press agent Irving Hoffman (read Irving "Swifty" Lazar?) that ink themselves forever into memory—as does Herr's brilliantly realized Chorus of Press Agents groveling at Walter's feet when he is King and bad-mouthing him when he is at last a wandering Broadway ghost. Sumptuous entertainment. Read full book review >
DISPATCHES by Michael Herr
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 8, 1977

"Vietnam, man. Bomb 'em and feed 'em, bomb 'em and feed 'em"—a chopper pilot summarized the war strategy for Herr. And with Herr's belated volume of unfiled dispatches from the front, the awareness grows that this war—like no other since WW I—continues to produce a rich lode of literature, part litany, part exorcism, part macabre nostalgia. Like his buddies Scan Flynn and Dana Stone—later MIA in Cambodia—Herr was a correspondent with a license to see more than just a single mud hole. Using the "Airmobility" of the helicopters, he hopscotched the country from Hue to Danang to the DMZ to Saigon ("the subtle city war inside the war" where corruption stank like musk oil). He was at Hue during the battle that reduced the old Imperial capital to rubble, at Khe Sanh when the grunts' expectations of another Alamo were running high. Between mortar shells and body bags he reflected on the mysterious smiles of the blank-eyed soldiers, smiles that said "I'll tell you why I'm smiling, but it will make you crazy." And Herr, who is full of twisted, hidden ironies, is all wrapped up in the craziness of the war, enthralled by the limitless "variety of deaths and mutilations the war offered," and by the awful "cheer-crazed" language of the official communiques which always reported spirits high, weather fine. He knew, and his buddies knew, that this kind of reportage was "psychotic vaudeville"—though not for a moment would he deny the harsh glamour of being a working war correspondent. He came home eventually, to do the "Survivor Shuffle" and miss Vietnam acutely, and he writes with a fierce, tight insistence that never lets go. Read full book review >