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The tragic events that made up the life of O'Neill are played over once again, this time in his own words, with a glass-clear, nonacademic supporting text by editors Bogard and Bryer. The voice in O'Neill's letters is as comfortable and nonliterary as an old friend's beside you on a couch. But aside from the friendly voice, the standout qualities in the letters are a warm balance of modesty and ambition, a fiery sense of work to be done, an eager willingness to discard failures and deformed works, a reaching out to friends for those warm exchanges which an ever more circumscribed life did not allow and which O'Neill did not really want. O'Neill seems content to carry on much of his life by correspondence while remaining in a well of silence and inspiration--not unreasonable when viewing the large body of work he gave birth to before his hand was stilled by Parkinson's. The letters are to his girlfriends and wives, from the heights of love to the pits of physical decay into which he falls time and again; to his three children; to his producers and directors in the theater; and to his publishers. Quotable passages are less about art than about suffering. About his forthcoming third draft of the nine-act Mourning Becomes Electra trilogy, he tells son Eugene, Jr.; ""Christ, what a job! I groan at times. . . I don't know what it is. Too on top of it to see the whole now. It's become nothing but a mess of fractions and balky details I'm kicking, coaxing, and worrying into the right alignment."" He's also quite frank in de-Freudianizing Strange Interlude. Though he writes often about mounting his shows (and films), readers deeply interested in O'Neill's creative process should turn to Louis Schaeffer's O'Neill (1968). Still, an O'Neill to love.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1988
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press