The Paris Review interviews, now in the fifth volume, seem always to have heft if only because so much focus is trained on...


WRITERS AT WORK: The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 5

The Paris Review interviews, now in the fifth volume, seem always to have heft if only because so much focus is trained on the writers' processes as against their personalities. (The ""worshipping"" and ""consuming"" of the ""divine substance,"" as Francine du Plessix Gray chooses to call it in her fustian, pedestrian forward.) Nonetheless, individual tics of self-regard positively gush out. When the writer is truly major, these are guideposts; when not, still fascinating. Thus Pablo Neruda twists and turns--plainly uncomfortable--as he stands up for Soviet state literature. Archibald MacLeish is as muscularly self-assured as any newspaper columnist. James Dickey and Gore Vidal seem embarrassing peacocks: Dickey--""I have spent fifty years crawling up the hill of Parnassus on my hands and knees, and now I want to see if I can fly""; Vidal--""When I saw this coming out on the page, I shuddered. . . knew awe, for I had knocked both Huxley and Orwell out of the ring."" Both Joseph Heller and Joan Didion evidence anxiety over their authenticity as novelists by chattering on about the epiphanic, candidly technical aspects of their art. Joyce Carol Oates appears to be so crammed into the voluminous folds of her opus, she hardly peeks out under questioning. Irwin Shaw (""Writing is like a contact sport, like football. . . . You can get hurt, but you enjoy it"") and Kingsley Amis give perfect portraits of the novelist-as-burgher. Jerzy Kosinski seems genuinely spook-like, Isaac Bashevis Singer a salt-of-the-not-quite-earth imp. (And P. G. Wodehouse--""What can you attribute a good nature to, I wonder. Do you think you're born with it? I suppose you are""--could spawn a line of adorable stuffed dolls in his likeness.) The three most unstable interviews here--and thus the most interesting--are those with Henry Green (nimbly deaf, shimmery, surprising); with John Cheever (true eccentricity: ""This table seems real, the fruit basket belonged to my grandmother, but a madwoman could come in the door any moment""); with William Gass (a Linnaeus of his own rhetoric). All three are centrifugal, take odd turns, and typify the ideal literary grilling: they give some sense of the ""grapple."" But the collection as a whole has its variegated rewards.

Pub Date: March 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1981