A familiar coming-of-age memoir about a young New Yorker who dreams of literary success.
“What a great, noble thing,” Tuten (Self-Portraits: Fictions, 2010, etc.) declares, “to give your life to art.” In short, nostalgic vignettes dating back as early as 1944, the author, a winner of the Award for Distinguished Writing from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, recounts two decades of maturation and intellectual posturing throughout his formative years in New York. Before becoming a novelist, screenwriter, and art critic, Tuten was determined in his youth to become “part of the world that [he] had read about in novels.” After a brief foray into painting, he was drawn to literature and so began the life of an aspiring writer. Although he never made it to la vie boheme in Paris, he repeatedly attempted to emulate a European lifestyle at home. He smoked “unfiltered Gauloises, like the French intellectuals,” and his vision of “the artist’s life” is one of “books, music, art, and a beautiful woman.” As he recalls, “I dreamed of instant fame, a book contract, and the waitress at Figaro noticing me.” Tuten pairs this relatable naiveté with too many tales of girlfriends and sexual exploits, but this is appropriate from an author who once considered Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer to be “a manifesto for my liberty.” The author’s intellectual ambitions, while compelling and at times inspirational, are not particularly unique. The memoir’s perfunctory finish reveals the lack of any substantive arc and suggests Tuten could have wandered through more memories if he had felt so inclined. The author’s life was unquestionably exciting—he published acclaimed novels, taught with Paul Bowles in Tangiers, worked on films, and befriended Roy Lichtenstein—but these stories are relegated to the occasional endnote, if addressed at all. Perhaps they are being saved for a more exciting follow-up.
An unabashed reminiscence that never fully coheres.