HARP by John Gregory Dunne
Kirkus Star


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Novelist and journalist Dunne (The Red White and Blue, Dutch Shea, Jr., etc.) here embarks on a ""middle-aged journey of discovery"" inspired by a season of deaths in his family, and by his own candidacy for ""a catastrophic cardiovascular event."" But this is no whiny clich‚ of crisis. Rather, Dunne subjects himself to the same tough-minded, darkly humorous sensibility that informs his best fiction and essays. In fact, Dunne's funny, sometimes furious memoir suggests that his ethnic origins explain his admitted mean streak. He's a ""harp,"" that ""short, sharp and abusive"" term for an Irish-American, a badge that Dunne now wears proudly. But it wasn't always so. As the grandson of immigrants who had made their way ""from steerage to suburbia,"" Dunne envied and emulated the local ""Yanks"" (what WASPs were then known as) of his native Hartford, Conn. By the time this surgeon's son was graduated from Princeton (with no distinction), his greatest ambition was to be an Episcopalian. Instead, he joined the Army and finally began to grow up. His ""twisted ethnic and religious pedigree"" prevailed, though, demonstrated by his continued ""weakness for the grotesque,"" which manifested itself in all sorts of ways, from his whoring during his military years in Germany to his recent exploration of a Frankfurt sex supermarket. Travel, for Dunne, has always been ""in search of a character,"" and in Hollywood, Salvador, and Jordan--among other places--he's found plenty to fuel both his writerly imagination and his ""volatile temper."" And when things threaten to slow down here, Dunne pushes on with the help of some convenient events--not just his heart problems, but his move back East after 24 years in L.A., where he'd ""stayed too long at the fair."" If his comments on the writer's craft seem familiar, that doesn't make them any less true, especially since Dunne takes his cue from that old Yank Henry James. The bad little Catholic boy in Dunne gives vent to some wonderfully irreverent memories; his delightful mean streak gives voice to some mature invective--in all respects, then, Dunne at his best.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster