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MIDSTREAM by Reynolds Price


An Unfinished Memoir

by Reynolds Price

Pub Date: May 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4391-8349-6
Publisher: Scribner

The late acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, playwright and memoirist begins with a return to Oxford University in 1961 and breaks off shortly after the death of his mother in 1965.

When he died in January 2011, Price (Ardent Spirits, 2009, etc.) had completed about two-thirds of this memoir (he had already chosen the title); his younger brother assembled the current volume and offers a grim afterword about Reynolds’ final rough months of debilitating pain in his wheelchair and bed. Price’s former student at Duke, novelist Anne Tyler, contributes a lovely foreword. The rough text is, of course, not polished. The early sections in particular (written from memory and from a diary he kept) are often superficial accounts of meals and socializing. But occasionally something piercing pokes through the surface. Price had hoped to rekindle an earlier relationship with a former lover, but the man let him know immediately that he was now with a woman. A bit later the author provides a star-struck but amusing account of a Roman meal and visit to the set of Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Things pick up with Price’s return to the United States, where he lived for a while in the guesthouse of composer Samuel Barber, who was proposing a collaboration with Price on the libretto of a new opera for Leontyne Price. Price suggested using the Pocahontas story; Barber demurred. Price has some thoughts about his peers (e.g., John Updike and Philip Roth) and the JFK assassination, but emerging most strongly is his love of teaching, which he practiced for more than 50 years at Duke.

The lines that gleam are poignant reminders of a searing light now lost.