COMPARED TO WHAT? by Thomas Farber


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A little doily of a book, pieces of verbal lacery stitched together into a balanced, lovely, delicately patterned whole by fiction-writer Farber (Hazards to the Human Heart, 1980; Curves of Pursuit, 1984; etc.). The subject here is writing, but this is not a manual or guidebook. Some of it is autobiography: Farber calls himself ""the writer"" here, and more than half the entries recapture in third person his struggle to establish his identity and craft. Most of the rest consists of anecdotes about or quotes from famous writers. We see Farber envying a wino, clubbing a parking meter, chatting about his father, dealing with people who want to appear in his work and people who ask to be omitted, writing his first columns at the San Francisco Express Times, attending Harvard and Yale Law School--none of these crystalline memories appearing in any particular chronological order, but following another rhythm that gradually unfolds the writer's sensibility. We learn his voice--never pompous, not very adventurous, in love with particulars, the voice of a skilled short-story writer rather than a novelist. He thinks in vignettes: streaks of remembrance, snatches of theory, bits of dream (at 42, he dreams the wonderful phrase, ""Language is love, language is love""). He wonders whether writing is an act of control, or of immersion, or of submission. For him, in any case, it's a beloved process as necessary and steady as breath. Not much here on The Writer's Life; instead, a quiet, tessellated portrait from midstream of the life of ""the writer.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1988
Publisher: Norton