CONVERSATIONS WITH KATHERINE ANNE PORTER: Refugee From Indian Creek by Enrique Hank Lopez


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Lopez (The Harvard Mystique) taped hours of conversation with Katherine Anne Porter in the last years before her death; ""I'd like you to write a biography about me,"" she said. But, whether out of loyalty or laziness, Lopez hasn't really written a biography: though well over half of the words are his, only occasionally does he supply the research (or the perceptions) needed to fill out or correct ""Miss Porter's"" (as she is referred to throughout) memory. And the result is a curious, unsatisfying hybrid--""the story of a life as its holder perceived it. . . not unlike the notebooks of a psychoanalyst""--but with neither the impact of first-person narrative nor the authority of objective scholarship. Direct quotation dominates the book's first third: anecdotes from Porter's motherless Texas childhood with an aloof father; a few terse remarks on her first, impulsive, unconsummated marriage at 16 (""I was frigid as a cucumber and never did really get over it altogether""); escape to Chicago at 21, followed by far-flung newspaper jobs. And then Lopez's paraphrasing narration gradually takes over. . . as influenza, a dying sweetheart, and a ""heavenly vision"" make Miss Porter ""a changed woman""--the woman who spent the next years shuttling between Greenwich Village and Mexico City, befriending revolutionaries and artists, turning against ""dishonest, treacherous"" Diego Rivera (""we shall never know what caused her sudden fury""), marching for Sacco-Vanzetti (a repeat here of the hindsight sentiments in The Never-Ending Wrong). There's a chapter on Hart Crane's drunken, pederastic, presuicide visit: ""Miss Porter felt that some of the difficulty was due to his trying to live in diametrically opposed socioeconomic strata."" There's Miss Porter in 1932 Germany, fending off a kiss from Goering: ""she quickly realized that the Nazis were hell-bent on the most malevolent venture in all history. . . 'You'll not succeed,' she said. 'You will fail miserably in the end.'"" And so on, episodically, through Porter's brief marriages, writer's block, academic recognitions, restless travels. . . up to fame and fortune at 72 with Ship of Fools. But Lopez hasn't found a way to give Porter's fragmented talk real shape, depth, or weight. He offers instead a gawky attempt at Erikson-based analysis (""she was never able to achieve what Erikson calls 'a readiness for intimacy'""); and, somewhat more usefully, he dissects Porter's plots, finding plausible (if oversimplified) life/work connections. In sum, it's a misguided, spottily intriguing hodgepodge that's sure to exasperate Porter scholars--all of whom will have to consult it, most of whom would surely prefer to have those tape-transcripts verbatim. . . without Lopez's paraphrasing, erratic narration, gushy asides, and undistinguished interpretations.

Pub Date: July 14th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown