Headlined by discussions with Lonesome Dove (1985) author Larry McMurtry and Watership Down (1972) writer Richard Adams, White’s (A Florida Anthology, 2013, etc.) selection of stories contains intimate sit-downs with authors from a wide range of genres.
This collection begins with the story of Harry Crews, a hard-drinking author whose real-life escapades heavily influenced his writing, though they might appear commonplace compared with those of other, more notorious literary figures. Crews provides keen insight into his writing process and troublesome past, but, since all the interviews occurred from 1979 to1984, they can feel outdated when the conversation shifts to his works being adapted for film and television: “. Crews will refuse to acknowledge The Gospel Singer if Tom Jones is cast as planned.” That outmodedness becomes a recurring situation during other interviews, with authors such as Frank G. Slaughter and Evan Hunter, which offer little new information about the lives of their subjects. The stories are most rewarding when White and the writers engage in philosophical discourse. Interviews with poet Richard Eberhart, behavioral psychologist and utopian theorist B.F. Skinner, and religious writer Chaim Potok particularly stand out as lively and deep. White often mimics the style of his subject, which keeps the writing fresh, and no story is more captivating than his interview with Calvin Hoffman, a leading voice for the theory that Christopher Marlowe was the true author behind Shakespeare’s works. Reading like a murder mystery, Hoffman’s devoted obsession with Shakespeare’s life and Marlowe’s vaguely reported death is shrouded in debate and wholly engrossing. Other interviews, however, fail to achieve the same tension. A discussion with actor Derek Jacobi—the only nonwriter—who acted in many Shakespeare plays, immediately follows the Hoffman interview but covers previously explored territory. Likewise, interviews with poet Kofi Awoonor and McMurtry run only a few pages before rushing to their respective conclusions, leaving readers wanting more.
An eclectic collection that illuminates the writing processes but too often feels incomplete.