Harrell’s memoir details her relationships with Hunter S. Thompson, Milton Klonsky and Jan Mensaert, and how these partners influenced her life by the way in which they lived their own.
Harrell (Toward a Philosophy of Perception, 2005, etc.) becomes acquainted with the self-styled “Gonzo” journalist Thompson while helping to edit his first book, Hell’s Angels (1967). She meets the Belgian poet Jean-Marie (Jan) Mensaert by chance outside a coffeehouse in Marrakech, and she discovers New York poet Milton Klonsky in a West Village bistro. Though disparate in age, temperament and locale, all three attracted the author because of her sense that they symbolized the zeitgeist of the 1960s and the coming post-modern era. Each man was fiercely individualistic, consciously deciding to live on his own terms in his life and work. For their part, all were physically attracted to Harrell, as well as finding in her a kindred spirit. Her relationship with Thompson is the only one that ever becomes, for a brief period, physical. Harrell’s deep emotional attachment to the men sometimes undermines her explanations about why she thought each of them possessed genius. There is scant example of their actual writing, the focus being on their struggles—with varying degrees of success—to be properly acknowledged for it. Trying to describe how she knew the men were important writers, she resorts to language like “falling into vibrations” in their presence or quotes bits of conversations she had with them. For instance, Klonsky tells her, “Write it, your life, as you would write a novel.” Still, there is a sense in which her personal, subjective approach is often effective; the reader comes to feel an affinity with the trio of writers in their attempts to achieve their iconoclastic visions of success, glimpsing them as individuals beyond their work, seeing how they think. Their genius, for Harrell, consisted of their being wholly themselves.
Memoir will likely please Hunter S. Thompson fans and appeal to readers with an interest in the beginnings of the post-modern era or the personal sacrifices involved in bringing serious written work to fruition.