A posthumous collection of diverse pieces by the writer who pioneered participatory journalism and founded the Paris Review.
Edited and arranged by his widow, they reveal all the strengths and weaknesses—i.e., the humanity—of Plimpton (Home Run, 2001, etc.) as a writer and a man. In addition to quarterbacking for the Detroit Lions and pitching to Willie Mays, he helped make self-deprecation an art form, and this aspect of his style is much in evidence, no more so than in an account written in 2002 for his prep-school alumni magazine of his dismissal from the school many years earlier. We also read two separate reports of his marginally successful appearance playing the piano at the Apollo Theater for its legendary Amateur Night. The final piece, a brief and wistful “wish list” from 2002, reveals experiences he yearns for: bowling a perfect game, being acknowledged from the stage by Britney Spears, having a memorable moniker like “Joltin’ Joe.” The title essay, one of the best here, ruminates ten years after the bizarre 1982 case of Larry Walters, who hooked 42 weather balloons to his Sears lawn chair and ascended to 16,500 feet—commercial pilots saw him—before drifting back safely to earth. Another strong entry reveals how a small lie Plimpton told about being bitten by a cobra (it was actually an attack of bursitis) escalated into a story that soon soared out of control. The author’s ever-present Mr. Hyde (his unresolved adolescence) emerges occasionally too, with particular force in a piece about being interviewed for an editorial position at Playboy; his randy drooling around the Playboy Mansion is pathetic rather than amusing. And yet . . . the man could write. His piece about the death of Jacqueline Onassis and her little-known fascination with pirates is touching and only subtly self-referential.
Hearing Plimpton’s unique voice again reminds how grievous has been its loss.