The son of the late poet William Matthews debuts with an uneven memoir of his father’s life, death, and enduring influence.
The author begins promisingly with a powerful segment about visiting the apartment of his father in 1997 right after 55-year-old William’s sudden death from a heart attack. “All I wanted to do was to sit down,” Sebastian writes, “and immerse myself in the slowly dying energy of the room.” The author discusses the poet’s serial sexual escapades and failed marriages, his compulsive desire to sleep with his students (he finally had to leave the University of Washington after women filed complaints), his weaknesses and strengths as a father, his drinking, and his demons. Sebastian also shows us William’s obsessions with jazz and opera and describes clearly his abilities as a writer, teacher, and performer. Because of the poet’s peripatetic life, the younger Matthews had no stable home life in the conventional sense. As he grew up, the author realized he wished to be a writer as well, but was soon wrestling with the same demons that tormented his father. There is an uncomfortable account of teenaged Sebastian having Clinton-esque sexual relations with one of his father’s graduate students, who stayed with him while Dad was away. Unfortunately, as the focus shifts from the poet to the memoirist, interest ebbs as triteness surges in. The expression “one day at a time” makes an unwelcome appearance and brings along many equally drab friends. The author experiences sexual dysfunction, enters therapy, joins a support group, screams “Fuck you!” at his father’s picture, struggles in his relationships with women, marries, and moves to Asheville, North Carolina, where he currently lives, teaches, and writes.
Succeeds creditably until the “me” in the memoir takes over. (7 illustrations, not seen)