A STAR-BRIGHT LIE by Coleman Dowell


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 Torso of an autobiography by novelist/songwriter Dowell (The Houses of Children, 1987, etc.), found among his papers after his 1985 suicide. Two chapters first appeared in the magazine Bomb. Autobiography was not Dowell's strong mode, states his novelist friend Edmund White in a foreword here: ``This unfinished book isn't quite the right vehicle for his genius. His novels, with their black pools of consciousness, are the best form for reflecting the white filigreed architecture of his inventive mind.'' After rising to sergeant-major in the Kentucky National Guard, which he left for a New York TV job as a songwriter/lyricist, Dowell found far less success writing musicals and never quite landed a hit on Broadway or off. Following several failures, he turned to the novel and, in the States at least, had an equally difficult time, even while gaining a cult following. Much space herein is given over to his bad reviews (when he was reviewed), with Kirkus singled out at length for gay-bashing and ``prejudice, inattention, a kind of resident viciousness [and]...macho femininity.'' In the introduction by Linda K. and John R. Kuehl, moreover, Kirkus is misquoted as having begun its review of Dowell's White on Black on White with: ``There is no doubt that this book is the worst that I have been given to review...'' (the review actually began, ``A melodrama about racism and sexuality...''). The present book has its pirouettes, with Tennessee Williams lauding Dowell's first musical comedy, Haymarket, as a ``ravishing work of art,'' then utterly forgetting Dowell after a three-day bender with him. Others who get harsh treatment include lyricist John Latouche (``His ego could have outfitted a Sicilian village composed of Mafia chieftains''); producer David Merrick, for his allegedly forked tongue; photographer Carl Van Vechten; and Baroness Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen). Plenty of purple raisins, but this cake never rises.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1993
ISBN: 1-56478-022-8
Page count: 165pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993