CROONING: A Collection by John Gregory Dunne
Kirkus Star

CROONING: A Collection

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Novelist and screenwriter Dunne here collects 16 nonfiction pieces--book reviews, memoirs, and journalism--mostly from The New York Review of Books. In perfect NYRB style, he transforms each review into a sustained essay, full of the keen insight and gutter wisdom that make his fiction so unnerving. What Dunne says of Tom Wolfe, in a rave of The Right Stuff, is true of himself: ""Class has always been [his] subject."" Whether chronicling the vulgarities of Hollywood's founding fathers or pillorying Ted Kennedy and Bill Buckley, Dunne turns his self-described ""shit detector"" up high. The language of obfuscation and the pretense of the parvenu are just two crimes that set off alarms. And when wit fails him, invective does quite well (of Newt Gingrich: ""the moral equivalent of a bowel movement""; of pundit Robert Novak: ""a fat and flatulent little bully""). The scene of the action is often California, Hollywood in particular, with an essay on the politics of water in L.A.; an affectionate memoir of blacklisted screenwriter Daniel James, who reemerged in the guise of Chicano novelist Danny Santiago; a grim visit to the L.A. morgue; a profile of legendary film mogul Sam Spiegel, whose voracious sexual appetite and criminality didn't prevent him from producing a handful of masterpieces; and the play-by-play of a failed movie deal involving Dunne himself. Hollywood provides such magical material because it's a place where legend equals fact; the Santa Monica courthouse intrigues Dunne because there ""the most rancid view of human behavior prevails."" Other selections reflect on the ""holy chore"" of screenwriting and ""the manual labor of the mind"" that is writing in general. At his most negative, Dunne reminds us that ""scores are made to be settled."" And here he gets even with more than a few prominent public nuisances, in prose that always shoots straight. Vintage stuff.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1990
Publisher: Simon & Schuster