A grandson of writer MacKinlay Kantor (1904-1977) unravels the tangles of his grandfather’s life and finds many of those same threads (the good, the bad, the ugly) in his own life.
Shroder—himself a veteran writer (Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal, 2014, etc.) and journalist (editor of the Washington Post Magazine)—remembers his once-celebrated grandfather well, though Kantor had tumbled from the literary mountain by that time. Kantor’s novel Andersonville (1955) won the Pulitzer Prize, had been an enormous bestseller, but he never again produced something so well received by critics and consumers. His wealth flew from his hands like chaff. Shroder was an incredibly fortunate researcher: the Library of Congress holds 158 boxes of Kantor material, and Shroder found other caches, as well, including in his own home. Carefully sifting through all of this, and reading (and in some cases rereading) his grandfather’s work, the author began to see numerous parallels in their lives, from a passion for the Civil War to their submission to the disciplines of writing. Shroder is stunned by some of his discoveries (among them: his grandfather’s serial adultery), is somewhat surprised by Kantor’s turn to the political right (he was friends with Curtis LeMay), and is touched by Kantor’s enduring belief in his abilities despite reviewers’ harshness and slumping sales. The connections the author sees between the two of them sometimes seem a bit forced or obvious—writers do share some things, whether blood relatives or not. But the more Shroder finds out about his grandfather, the more his sympathy grows—Kantor’s own father was a con man of the first order—and he ends with a deeply felt appreciation. The author also notes that Kantor’s wife tolerated a lot—and lovingly so.
A compelling account, suffused with both sympathy and sharpness, of a writer who’s mostly forgotten and of a grandson who’s grateful.