THE THIRSTY MUSE: Alcohol and the American Writer by Tom Dardis
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THE THIRSTY MUSE: Alcohol and the American Writer

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With merciful but unwavering eye, Dardis--the biographer of Keaton and Harold Lloyd--reviews in depth the writing and drinking careers of four classic American writers (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and O'Neill), and makes his strong, fresh ideas about their alcoholism stick. This is the first study of its sort ever to appear, in which American literary giants are measured--almost ounce by ounce--for their entire lifetimes as drinkers. In his witty, richly detailed Some Time in the Sun (1976), Dardis found much new material about the Hollywood careers of Faulkner and Fitzgerald. This time out he curbs his joviality, finding that all four writers--especially Faulkner--were almost doomed to alcoholism. Dardis favors the genes-plus-environment explanation of the disease. Going by their family histories, these four were genetically predisposed to alcoholism and needed only a cultural awakening to activate their disease, which followed its own course once the host had been enriched by ethyl's magic molecules. During Prohibition, to be up against the establishment, one drank, and good writers were drinking writers. Dardis' four began early, went into literary decline at about age 37, could no longer metabolize the same massive amounts as in their 20s. Only O'Neill turned his disease around, sobered up and could face addiction squarely enough to write about it unflinchingly, as he did in his masterpieces Long Day's Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh. Dardis' long portraits of these disabled gents careening through their lives and falling into the second-rate after fabulous first acts(O'Neill aside, who had other physiological demons) have tremedous impact and many searing moments. This is the definitive work on its subject and is likely to remain so for many years.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1989
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin