SHORT LIVES: Portraits in Creativity and Self-Destruction by Katinka Matson

SHORT LIVES: Portraits in Creativity and Self-Destruction

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An ill-assorted catalogue of 30 (mostly 20th-century) artists who somehow propelled themselves to an early grave. Matson was apparently inspired to assemble these hasty biographical sketches by her long and painful love affair with a third-rate Byronic poseur (judging from her description) named Tyler Bootman, who died in Mexico at 36. Her suicidal company of poets, painters, actors, etc., are a grotesquely varied lot, from Thomas Chatterton (d. 1770) to Elvis Presley (d. 1977), from Lenny Bruce to Simone Weil, from Edgar Allen Poe to Judy Garland. Matson presents these characters with almost total naivetÉ, too awed by their genius (or talent) and too moved by their agony to bother analyzing or criticizing them. Never mind the difference between major figures like Rimbaud and mediocrities like Harry Crosby, or between the tragic nobility of Van Gogh and the puerile buffoonery of Dylan Thomas. Yukio Mishima fits into the same bag with Marilyn Monroe, Antonin Artaud with James Dean. It's as if they had all been struck by some mysterious but highly interesting disease which submerged their individuality in its picturesque symptoms. Even if Matson's claim that her doomed heroes ""pursued"" their own death were true (and that hardly fits Weil or F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others), the important thing is that any given death, like any given life, can be more or less meaningful, beautiful, creative, etc.--and Matson, at least by implication, ignores this crucial distinction. Instead of doing a study, she made a list (in alphabetical order, no less). Well-meaning, but otherwise utterly undistinguished.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1980
Publisher: Morrow