O'Neill is the grounded whale of the American theatre. His best plays, especially Long Day's Journey, are among the best of the century, in any language; his worst are didactic, garrulous, intellectually inane, and tone-deaf. He has been pictured again and again as a tragic figure, and indeed everything he wrote, with the exception of Ah, Wilderness! is imbued with a titanic lust to be tragically expressive: drunkards, sailors, wretched heroines, mushy cynics, blighted youths with or without masks--these characters rise to the footlights with classic longings and terrible fates, fugitives from Euripides triumphantly reborn in the New World or hopelessly lost in a drama worthy of vaudeville. The tales he told turned up as naturalism, expressionism, mysticism, or Nietzschean melodrama, but it was always the same tale, the same world, whether the scene was the waterfront, the barroom, or the haunted house or farm in New England. This is O'Neill's purity, his elemental force, the autobiographical signature running through his dialogue either in blood or sweat. Naturally, he is a brilliant subject for a biographer, and Louis Sheaffer, after searching every available nook and cranny, correcting unfounded assumptions, adding new information and insights, has produced, in the first of a two-volume study, a portrait which is astonishingly meticulous and fluent, vividly grasping both the milieu and the man.