ALWAYS MERRY AND BRIGHT: The Life of Henry Miller by Jay Martin
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ALWAYS MERRY AND BRIGHT: The Life of Henry Miller

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Practically everything bohemian Miller's ever written has been about himself--so any attempt at biography is almost automatically placed in a competitive position. Martin gives it his all. The life boils down to three basic stages. A miserable existence until age 35, working for Western Union as a dispatcher, not yet writing, and suffering like a Marcel over Albertine-like, gold-digging June, second wife of an eventual run of five. Then, Paris: relief at being free and an explosion of bohemianism--Tropic of Cancer. Finally, the return to America: more poverty (not until he was 60 did Miller earn more than $3000 a year), but success growing on the slopes of scandal; the censorship trials; fame; Big Sur; guruhood thrust on a man who remained a German-meticulous romantic hoping to make up for a life haft down the tubes. Martin is nothing if not sympathetic; Miller's own terms, so massively spelled out in his books, are the ones in operation here. To the point that-and this is where readers will divide over this book-Martin consciously writes like Miller: all the obscenity, corny metaphysics, and baroque sufferingartist stuff. Martin, who approached Nathanel West previously in a very different fashion, clearly made a conscious decision--that there was no way to encompass Miller's heartlessness, craftiness, huge appetites, hucksterism, and self-promotion on coolly objective grounds. Miller is excessive; so is Martin. But the energy--like a dog running in wild circles after a flea on its tail--is effectively captured, with all the sloppiness, all the will it took to reform a hated life into another image. When Miller is ludicrous, the book is ludicrous with him. When he breaks through with candor and fire, Martin seems to be right there, too.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1978
Publisher: Capra