TENNESSEE: CRY OF THE HEART by Dotson Rader

TENNESSEE: CRY OF THE HEART

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Rader, an undistinguished novelist (Miracle, the tacky Beau Monde) and ubiquitous social/literary/political hanger-on, was friendly with Tennessee Williams from 1969 until the playwright's death in 1983; here he offers a sentimentalized grabbag of unpleasant life-with-Tennessee anecdotes--filled out with excerpts from Williams' Memoirs, bits of familiar Williams biography, and quasi-transcripts of Williams talking, in monologues or conversation. (""His words as they appear in this book derive from my own papers""--including some tapes--""and, of course, from memory."") As made quite clear enough in Donald Spoto's restrained The Kindness of Strangers (p. 181), Williams' last 15 years were a sort of slurry nightmare, spent in various degrees of booze/pill-induced stupor: what little energy he had went largely into compulsively promiscuous sex, paranoid fantasies, and desperate writing/rewriting. Rader details some of Williams' interactions with hustlers, pick-ups, and paid companions; though Rader and Williams weren't lovers, they ""cruised"" together, sometimes sharing the same youth's sexual favors. There's gossip about the sex-lives (and/or the anatomy) of Truman C., Christopher I., Montgomery Clift, Ned Rorem, and Warren Beatty--whose sexual offer Williams declined. (""I have never been to bed with an actor, baby! . . . That is not professional behavior."") There are bits about Williams' bizarre public behavior (falling down, faking death), his manic cravings for speed, Valium, Demerol. And--often at repetitious, numbing length--there are quotations from Williams' feverish, occasionally comic or eloquent stream-of-consciousness: his obsession with such enemies as ""the sinister Gelbs of the New York Times""; his fear of critics; his feelings about family, lovers, and his art. Rader makes an unconvincing try at portraying Williams as ""a politically committed man of the left."" He argues the merits of a few later plays. Otherwise, however, there's no point or shape to these sordid/saccharine glimpses of Tennessee trying ""to make it through the night."" Moreover, Rader marbles the text with his own name-droppings, pet peeves, and posturings (including some recycled clinkers from Beau Monde)--making this an unlovely exercise in literary-world parasitism indeed.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday