A loosely fitting collection of shaggy-dog stories, anecdotes and book reports by novelist and screenwriter Gifford (The Stars Above Veracruz, 2006, etc.).
Gifford allows, early on, that it is his good fortune to have survived as a writer when “only one percent of writers are able to support themselves solely by their writing.” In some parts of the world, in fact, he is famous; one of the more charming of the travel vignettes finds him in a Cohiba factory in Cuba, where a lector—a person who reads aloud to the rollers of big cigars—smitten by his Wild at Heart promises to read it next, after finishing an off-the-rack romance novel. Some of the anecdotes are mildly cautionary: It’s never a good idea, we learn, to go shooting with William Burroughs. Some are quietly illuminating; a scholarly film buff, Gifford turns in a fine reading of Marlon Brando’s enigmatic film One-Eyed Jacks, even if he cannot resist an annoying breeziness as he goes (Karl Malden: “The best nose in the business.” Richard Widmark: “a considerably thinner actor [than Brando]”). At the center of the book, accounting for more than a third of its bulk, is a less successful enterprise: a set of brief essays on Gifford’s favorite books. It’s thin gruel; in 83 words, for instance, Gifford dispatches The Great Gatsby as “perhaps the only almost-perfect novel ever written”—whatever that means—while an even shorter assessment of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger avers that “Hamsun was a Nazi sympathizer, maybe worse, but there is still truth in this book that doesn’t go away.” Gifford aficionados will surely be pleased, though, by the book’s concluding pages, which contain his libretto for a Japanese “action musical” complete with a burning curtain and an omniscient hermaphrodite.
Strictly for the fan club.