Kirkus Star


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A hurricane of a memoir--but not because of Bishop's and-then-I-wrote confidences. True, Jim does cover his career in the sort of detail you'd expect from the master of minute-to-minute history. From 1920s teenage failures to copyboydom at the News (""an editorial whorehouse""), where he found a mentor in handsome cynic Mark Hellinger: ""Kiddie. . .if you want to write you are going to have to learn to pound out terse sentences composed of small words."" From crime reporter at the Daily Mirror (""Knowing the Mirror was like understanding a third-rate tap dancer"") to editor at Collier's, where he had the temerity to kill pieces by Quentin Reynolds and Hemingway. . .and to blue-pencil Cardinal Spellman. From editor of Liberty (a magazine with a death wish) to literary agent to Gold Medal paperbacks--where, if the art director ""managed to get a manuscript from Bishop Fulton Sheen, the cover would feature some benighted saint in leering agony with filmily draped breasts."" And, starting in the Forties, articles and books--like The Day Lincoln Was Shot, which made him rich and famous by age 50, with a syndicated column and access to presidents (""I looked for gigantic heroes and unearthed defensive pygmies""). All this is solidly entertaining stuff, goosed along by Bishop's self-deprecating growliness, some vitriol (re Jackie and the JFK book feuds), and some slapstick (a surprisingly prim LBJ desperately covering himself during a bathroom interview). But what gives this book a gripping authority is that, alternating with the success story, are two love/horror stories of Irish-Catholic domesticity: Jim's father leaves Jim's stoic, suffering mother to live with the lustier lady next door. . .but returns to share old age with her; and Jim himself philanders and writhes through 30 years with a fearful, alcoholic, puritanical wife and a wretched live-in mother-in-law. Harrowingly alive with fights, drunks, guilts, and unlovely death scenes, Bishop's not-always-endearing confession grounds the triumphs in misery (with a second-marriage happy ending). And the result is a relentless narrative pinwheel--spinning from funny to intriguing to ugly--that should grab the attention of an audience far beyond the longtime Bishop readership.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown