Journalist and novelist Mewshaw (Shelter from the Storm, Mar. 2003, etc.) recalls his days as a fledgling in the tree of literature and examines the myriad influences of big birds named Garrett, Styron, Jones, Bowles, and Vidal.
There are some dazzling moments in this uneven memoir: James Jones’s catty comment about Hemingway’s oral sex with his shotgun is worth the cover price all by itself; and the long final chapter about Gore Vidal, with asides featuring Pat Conroy and Norman Mailer, coruscates with its subject’s wit. (Vidal once quipped, claims Mewshaw, that the three saddest words in the English language are “Joyce Carol Oates.”) The author can gore literary bulls, too. Accompanied by a tall model in an Italian restaurant, for example, Mailer “looked like a tiny tot in a Halloween costume.” But Mewshaw is drawn to celebrities like a fly to cream pie. He begins by describing how he convinced George Garrett to let him into a writing seminar at the University of Virginia, then segues into accounts of drinking with William Styron, dining with Harold Robbins and Robert Penn Warren and Anthony Burgess and Paul Bowles and Graham Greene (not at the same time). He chatted with Sharon Stone, saw Lindsay Wagner naked, and had a surreal shopping spree with Estelle Parsons in the desert. Mewshaw shows the sense to be self-deprecating at times; he publishes a strong letter from Graham Greene complaining about his published profile of the English writer, and he occasionally admits to various personal and professional failures. But he also seems more than determined to portray himself as an unjustly overlooked novelist, quoting—sometimes at length—flattering comments from Styron, Warren, and Burgess. Errors and careless prose undercut his claims. He attributes to Chairman Mao a quotation from Lao Tzu, misspells Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name several times, and too frequently finds language that is conventional rather than novel.
Occasionally engaging, but too often lost among the stars.