Bursts of on-air intelligence from the distinguished novelist.
Invited by a radio producer to recount a memory of Christmas past, Price (Letter to a Man in the Fire, 1999, etc.) caught the radio bug, and began to contribute short essays for NPR to broadcast whenever the news was slow. “For each piece aired,” he writes, “I’d receive a sum of money that would buy dinner for two at a modest good restaurant.” While hardly lucrative, the work, he continues, was beneficial to his larger career as a writer: it forced him to trim his already lean prose to fit into three- and four-minute slots, and to honor deadlines. This collection gathers a year’s worth of weekly columns that are, in the main, indeed lean—and full of strikingly well-told little stories. One is that Christmas memoir, which recounts an unexpected gift from a Roman beggar and is a marvel of verbal economy; another offers a fond portrait of the endlessly interesting, ancient doyenne Alice Roosevelt Longworth (about whom he writes, “to sit two feet from a smiling vital woman whose mind could leap from a Georgetown dinner in the late 1960s to the frozen Delaware and the Father of our Country in 1776 was a salutary shock”); others drop names—Orson Welles, Ronald Reagan, Ingrid Bergman—shamelessly, but more still honor Price’s unfamous relatives and ancestors and other citizens innocent of celebrity. Just a few of the pieces seem hurried and obligatory, among them an unremarkable complaint about the humdrum business of the book tour and an anti-television screed tailor-made for a fund drive. The occasional clinker aside, though, most of Price’s radio bits, like the commentaries of fellow NPR denizen Andrei Codrescu, translate well onto the printed page and hold up to repeated readings.
For Price’s many admirers and those new to his work alike, a worthy addition.