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A painstaking, understated biography that illuminates the work first--and incidentally dramatizes the life. Raised in emotionally and financially unstable circumstances, Anderson re-created himself throughout his life, never with complete confidence. Polarities shaped his life and work: a sense of ""vastness of possibility"" versus longing for a romanticized small-town home, industrial-age angst conflicting with admiration for the ""delicacy. . .of machinery,"" the call to manliness offset by aversion to traditional male behavior. Seized by contemporaries as a symbol for the period's rejection of materialism in favor of compassionate community and art, Anderson, says Townsend, suffered as a writer when he became a myth. Glossed over is the irony that he built his career on loving humanity (championing workers and blacks), but ignored his family and easily discarded his first three wives. Proud of his ability to ""be a son of a bitch and pop right out of it gay as a lark,"" Anderson forgave himself blithely, a tendency that parallels the indiscriminate sympathy that Townsend suggests mars the writing. No Boswellian vitality or intrusiveness here. This biographer is too tasteful to gossip, too evenhanded to jar, too protective of his subject to make the pointed remarks the reader occasionally craves. Anderson scholars will find the work useful, students of the period should walk not run to pick up a copy, and those ready to hunker down for a juicy read will be gently disappointed.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1987
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin