Even the title of this collection of short pieces about famous writers he has known demonstrates that former Commentary...


"EX-FRIENDS: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer"

Even the title of this collection of short pieces about famous writers he has known demonstrates that former Commentary editor and undying neocon guru Podhoretz (The Bloody Crossroads, 1986, etc.) continues to display the temperament that Shirley MacLaine attributed to Debra Winger: turbulent brilliance. Podhoretz proudly wears his scars from the ideological wars that convulsed the group of mostly Jewish, New York City intellectuals that he dubbed The Family. The quarrels between himself and his former colleagues on the left, he allows, often sound sectarian--an apt word to describe the shouting matches, awkward silences, and endless factionalism that rocked The Family every few years over such issues as Soviet expansion, Israel, Vietnam, and gay and women's liberation. (Amazingly enough, the present volume doesn't exhaust Podhoretz's list of ex-friends, since he also says that he has parted company with Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Robert Brustein, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.) Podhoretz's strengths as a polemicist surge from his determination to write from his gut, no matter where that may lead him, as well as from a passionate insistence that politics and the arts matter absolutely. Yet, despite tinges of nostalgia for the loss of the warmth and vitality he felt from his ex-friends, he also writes more frequently (and predictably) with shrill rhetoric. Nor does he seem to understand how strongly affronts to the egos of all cronies concerned figure in the ruptures he now chronicles. Many anecdotes here are unusually rich, including Allen Ginsberg yelling at the bourgeois Podhoretz, ""We will get you through your children!""; in another, Norman Mailer tries to cajole the author into joining an orgy. But Podhoretz tends, tiresomely, to retrace old battlegrounds with recycled stories from previous contentious memoirs (e.g., Making It, 1967). This reminiscence at its best is suffused with wistfulness for the vanishing of intellectual community but suffers from an inability to reconsider as it remembers.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

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