UPSTATE by Edmund Wilson

UPSTATE

Records And Recollections Of Northern New York (new York Classics)

KIRKUS REVIEW

Anouilh once said "When you're forty, half of you belongs to the past -- and when you are seventy, nearly all of you." Mr. Wilson's retrospective belongs wholly to that past and, except for the initial section dealing with a still earlier one, it is based on the diaries he kept during the last twenty years which he has converted here into a book -- "a last effort to fill a vacuum"? In the beginning all seems lenitive and harmonious as he writes about the upstate New York countryside, "beautiful but now empty," with perhaps a "cold storage" quality but still the house and landscape where he belongs -- it is his "pied a terre in stability." At the end too there are spot touches which are reciprocally saddening as one contemplates the reductions of old age (his heart, his hearing, and of course his teeth), his estrangement from the small community in which he lives, and his difficulties with so many people, even Elena his friend of twenty years on whom he is admittedly dependent. In fact Mr. Wilson is often unpleasantly contentious with apparently very few "raisons que la raison ne connait pas." He is uncharitable toward almost all the friends and compeers of his life: nitpicking with Nabokov whose arrogance he shares; commenting on the death of Hemingway "absurd and insufferable though he often was," and Thurber's after his "vastations"; he is even minimizing about his other very good friend Helen's cancer; and of course sometimes he is wickedly funny -- Walter Edmonds reading only historical novels "as if following the stock market of his own investments." At the outset there is a tribute to his cousin, Dorothy Mendenhall, who became one of the first woman doctors and she is heard saying "the worst thing about old age is the rapidity with which your periphery shrinks." Mr. Wilson is aware of it even if he makes few concessions to that diminishing world of his experiences and relationships. You will find him antipatico which is just where the tattletale quotient of this memoir is heightened; but then, after faulting Van Wyck Brooks for paying too much attention to all the reviews of his books, you will find it depressing to think of Mr. Wilson getting up at four o'clock in the morning to read "old reviews of my books.
Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1971
ISBN: 0815624999
Page count: 436pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1971




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