THOSE DRINKING DAYS: Myself and Other Writers by Donald Newlove
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THOSE DRINKING DAYS: Myself and Other Writers

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Who can resist the charms of literary tavern-talk, golden tongues loosened by the grape, etc.? Newlove can--to him it's all ""Drunkspeare,"" to him the pickled greats are ""grounded angels, each at his own uttermost extreme of Little Dreamland, waiting for that healing mist to settle on his cells."" From whence comes this chapped Inquisitor? From 25 years, to hear him tell of it, of booze down the throat, of self-deceit (""I lived in a stupor of guilt. . . during unguarded moments [I] would spot a disappointed hound in my eyes""). Child of alcoholic parents, Newlove sopped up his first bibulous education in upstate New York via the advertising and editorial pages of Esquire (""That magazine--it came poached in vermouth""). Hitches in the armed forces during the Fifties were both lightened and deadweighted by the accumulation of one after another ""Drunkspearian"" unpublished manuscript; marriages and children went by the by; and Newlove's body and mind steadily ""horripilated"" away. A long paragraph of mental and physical deficits is toenail-curling, as is a nightmarishly immediate recounting of the demonically-inviting but impossible process of writing while lit: ""This is it, I'm stuck at retightening unsprung sentences if I want this paragraph tuned like a Rolls. Something chokes and suddenly I'm all over the page fighting breakdown."" Anyone familiar with Newlove's fiction knows his almost buoyant capacity for shame--here, smacking his mother around when they'd both had too much; trying to review books that booze didn't let him first read; ""Stalinism"" against the less resolute, while early on the wagon. But when, in the book's second section, he goes after other famed ""Little Dreamland""-ers--Robinson, Lowry, Kerouac, Jack London, O'Neill, Lewis, Berryman, Lowell, Tennessee Williams--your first reaction may be to stand back. ""Genius is no excuse for self-destruction. . . the illness is ego, with its intolerance, hatred of change and resistance to getting well, grandiose talk and behavior."" They would have all written better sober, Newlove hasn't a doubt. Narrow and starchy? A little--but having put himself already primus inter pares in the failing, Newlove's curt judgments are never easy to dismiss: they've got a survivor's zeal. Add to that the popping prose, the excitement of the resurrected, and you've got a book bound to make any reader more than a little uncomfortable--which is probably its very aim.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Horizon