MYSELF AND STRANGERS by John Graves

MYSELF AND STRANGERS

A Memoir of Apprenticeship
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A gentle, civilized memoir, as comfortable as an eiderdown but not without a certain goatishness, from the rustic sage of Texas.

Graves (From a Limestone Ledge, 1980, etc.) concentrates on the years 1951–56, half of them spent in Europe (mostly Spain, but with lots of rambling). It was a quiet period, lacking momentous events in the region, a time to wander and drink as part of a “belated apprenticeship” in life and writing. The author complains that the embedded snippets of his journals throughout the book make him sound callow and provincial, “ill-read despite six years of college, naïve in several ways, sexually a bit randy, quite profane at times, and filled with inchoate, often frustrated ambition.” True, but the youthful blatherings concerning books, movies, friends, and excursions are tempered by the voice of Old John, who is always on hand to comment, summarize, and offer bracketed explanations. It really all starts in Mexico, where Graves goes after WWII for a bit of head-straightening: how was he to know the process would take him ten years to complete? In Europe, Graves quickly flees the expatriate community, even though he fits in neatly between the left-wingers and the glib literati. “I had never worked up a set of easy attitudes, whether rightist or leftist in flavor,” he notes, “through which to pass pat judgment on people and events.” What Graves digs at most successfully here is his lust to write in 1954: “This era of suspending breathing and fright in which we live—how can you say anything worth saying about it?” He answers the question in 2003: “What I didn't see was that I still had to find the subject matter that was right for me, or had to let it find me.” Call it Texas.

Exotic but identifiable experiences into which readers can pleasurably insinuate themselves. (18 photographs)

Pub Date: May 11th, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-4222-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2004