The highly crafted first installment of a projected three-volume memoir from one of the most respected and least known voices in American letters.
“I’m trying to write a memoir that gets beneath the self-consciousness of self,” Woiwode (Indian Affairs, 1992, etc.) writes in the opening pages his story. First, he narrates the rigors of a particularly harsh recent winter at his home in North Dakota, followed by a brief chapter that addresses spiritual matters. Then he shifts back to his academic career at the University of Illinois and the considerable success he enjoyed in the theater before he found his voice as a writer and his path to New York, where with encouragement from William Maxwell at the New Yorker he developed and published his first fiction. In his account, Woiwode breaks through the foreground—interrupting the present with the past, or vice versa—to establish a secondary narrative thread. He depicts all action in the present tense throughout, cutting back and forth between “then” and “now” with the abruptness of film montage. Although the technique takes getting used to, each narrative develops distinctively and richly in theme and character; no matter how suddenly he leaves and returns from one “time” to the other, the book unfolds with sure control and clarity. He turns his gaze on the figures in his life—his family, his friends (including the young Robert DeNiro), his teachers (Maxwell especially), and himself—with the honesty and unconditional love that his mentor tells him writers must have. His affection for (and obligation to) Maxwell emerges with little sentimentality; the larger themes—loss, struggle, and love—become powerful through the virtues of language and insight as pure and sharp as the air on a clear December morning. At times that air gets a bit rarefied, but the rewards are worth the risk.
A literary memoir of purest sense and sensitivity.