A darling of the postwar literary counterculture is honored in a tidy collection that makes coherent sense of what might have been a group of funny if disparate works.
Rather than reverting to chronology, Southern’s son (and literary executor) Nile and editor Friedman wisely divide the great man’s writings by genre (tales, new journalism, etc.) and subject (the film business, writing, etc.)—an arrangement that points out Southern’s strengths in each. Just as The Magic Christian and Easy Rider show his varieties of outrageousness, so do his short writings. The journalism (particularly his piece on working with “big Stan Kubrick”) reveals his ease at mixing tale-telling and corporate critique, while the letters, depending on your point of view, are either examples of fine verbal architecture or irritating self-involvement. His appreciations of other writers are personal and original, notably in his Paris Review interview with British novelist Henry Green and his love note on the weirdness of “Ed Poe” (as in Edgar Allan Poe). Of note to film historians is Southern’s go at adapting Arthur Schnitzler’s Rhapsody, A Dream Novel for the screen—the psychosexual drama Eyes Wide Shut would have been quite different if Kubrick had taken Southern’s tack of going “the comedy route.” As for sex and drugs, they waft throughout the collection, settling in as subject matter for such works as “A Conversation with Terry Southern and William Burroughs” and “Letter to George Plimpton: A Sports-Death Fantasy” (the latter involving ice cubes).
When you’re done, even if you feel you’ve read all you need about sweet drugs and pert body parts, it’s hard not to like Southern. He was big-hearted and irrepressible, an optimist of excess when it seemed such things were possible.