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Thursday, February 13, 2014

LETTER TO HAVERFORD ALUMNI MAGAZINE RE FRANK CONROY OBIT



WRITING A LETTER ABOUT FRANK TO THE HAVERFORD REVIEW PROVIDED THE IMPULSE TO THEN DEVELOP A FAR LONGER RIFF, WHICH WILL ALLOW ME TO MEMORIALIZE QUITE A FEW THINGS. HAVERFORD plays a role in one chapter in a forthcoming book, but only in the sense that being there in the mid-fifties had an AS IF feeling to it, while the furies that would be unleashed in the 60s were brewing and occasionally darting some angry tongues in a variety of directions.



  Reading John Lombardi's eulogy, in the most recent issue of Haverford News, of Frank Conroy, once my oldest friend, compels {?}, forces {?,}, at any event makes me want to introduce a number of emendations.

First, I think, it ought to be said that Frank's becoming a teacher, of writing and music, makes the best of sense - he had been a wonderful and patient and encouraging teacher-critic even as a Freshman; far superior to, say, Professor Ashmead whose sardonicism, fine marker as that was, in its limited respect, coming as it did from a father figure especially to those with father problems, failed to be leavened by articulated understanding and responsiveness to whatever subtext of the frequently troubled autobiographical out-pourings with which these texts confronted him above, beyond and below their whatever literary merits and hints of talent, something I also detected in Professor Sathersthwaite, another Harvard Prof's take on all our fumblings in the Haverford-Bryn Mar Review's 1958 edition. It's a Harvard habit, that requires its own self-understanding. However, at that time, Frank did not, to my recollection, ever shame a student, in company, to the point of his or her fainting in class as he was known to at Iowa .

Now, on to some sorely needed emendations.

[1] I was the Haverford editor of the Haverford -Bryn Mawr Review during the year 1957-58 that Allison, not Frank's first published story, was published, in its single issue, compared to the usual two, that we [Paula Dunaway, my BM '58 counterpart and I] got out that year, and not only for the claimed lack of financing I don't think. but because I had returned form Europe with a severely disenergizing case of mononucleosis. Perhaps there was also a lack of material. - Frank had been the editor the year prior and edited two fine fat issues with Pollockish covers by an abstract expressionist painter friend of his from New York. Our cover, by Betsy Nelson [BM '58] and close friend of Paula's [nepotism and incest to the ends of the world], was of a severely discombobulated Icarus, fit subject for Professor Satherswaite's derisive review of the entire issue. [The memorable Welsh name "Satherswaite" is then used by Frank, playfully, in Body and Soul merely, best as I can tell, because he fancied the name]. The 1957-58 editorship awaited me, was handed over by Frank, on my return from a Junior year abroad - Munich, Berlin, Paris, Venice, Dubrovnik - at the Brooklyn Port of Embarkation, this Army brat's second arrival on a troop ship, this time on the USSS General Bruckner, of Bruckner Blvd. fame, [where I had spent some summer months after Highschool graduation as a Howard Johnson's soda jerk when the forest where I had planned to work as a lumber jack was closed down] where Frank picked me up to crawl around on the floor of his mother's place on East 86th Street for a few weeks prior to the start of our Senior year. [It was this then waif's home away from no home, and his warm blowzy Danish mother and I got along fine, and Frank and I had spent our Freshman year summer there, first working as Good Humor entrepreneurs at what we figured out was .28 cents per hour, at a public swimming pool on the lower East Side, when we reproached the Department of Labor that then informed us that we were independent contractors without legal standing, and then as an undertipped squeezer of lemon juice at the Bronx Botanical Garden which lack of customers, however, afforded the time, while Frank went to Rehobath to be with other buddies, to read all of Conrad and all of James, until the late James provided a glimpse into such coldness that I shied back and put them off towards the unyielding end]. I also spent Christmasses at Frank's mother's place on East 86th Street, the only building between Fifth and Park that was marked by genteel poverty, especially so compared with the extrordinary neighboring wealth, a not insignificant factor for Frank's aspirations I don't think, but scarcely for me, a déclassé since my unhappy childhood days in castles where I longed nothing as much as to go among the village people, but developed a preference for rooms with high ceilings and unconstricting space. That is not to say that I was entirely nonchalant, though far too in the partners I chose, in my ambitions, say in thinking that a publishing firm "sharing profits with its authors and employees" [Urizen Books] might make be a revolutionary cell! Reflecting on history that I knew might have taught me the better of my over-optimism.

It was at one of these Christmases at Frank's mother's place that I realized how competitive Frank was. Inadvertently I had beaten him at a game that consisted of seeking to quickly hammer as many little staves as possible into the requisite holes in a wooden board. He just couldn't get over it, had to keep trying to win at least once. How obnoxious this need to win at any cost could become is detailed in one  fine, particularly self-critical story, some of them mini-novels, collected in his second book, Mid Air [1985]. Frank's sister was there, his half sister, India, his mother's sister. Frank introduced me to pool at a hall farther east on 86th street, and it would have been the farthest from mind to imagine that about twemty years later I might become one of the stellar players of bar pool in Tribeca.

All this, to be able to say: that Allison cannot be Frank's first published story - the H-BM Review began to publish stories of his, and mine, as of our sophomore year... there is always that long lag before a piece will appear in a bi-annual. And it so happens that Margaret [Maggie] Conroy, Frank's second wife, on the occasion of this issue of the News, communicated to me that Frank did not hate Allison. I myself find nothing seriously wrong with Allison , for its time, except it's opening, which stammers unimaginatively, naturalistically, in the wrong way I would say. And who might prior editors have been who took a liking to our so different things? [Ashmead once informed me, who occasionally writes poetry, that they were excellent warmed over Mallarme, when I had barely heard the name.] Bill Packard who also edited the daily or was it weekly Haverford paper and was one of those compulsives who felt he needed to do everything until he would crack up as he did? And that is I on that photo insert, watching Frank play chess, amazed at what a Mignon I used to be, thus suddenly with a better retrospective understanding why the girls liked me, and also some older men who then very politely, as I was then [unlike the best drawn character in all of Frank's work, the amazingly rendered "Catherine" of Body and Soul, I had yet to learn to say "shove off"] had to be told that, interesting as I found their minds, their bodies not. just the opposite as in the case of the girls... sometimes. On photos from Oakwood School that I recently saw that tough side, that can go lumber-jacking, is implicitly emphatic.

Secondly: as to Frank saying, in the quoted interview, and quite an astonishing performance it is indeed, that it was ages between assigned books that he found one that he had not already read: I well recall that neither he nor I had read most of the introductory titles of the Humanities 101-102, I think it was called, including Sartre, Larwence, Forster, Malraux, etc. etc. all of which left a deep impression. More likely than not I was the better read of the two of us [aside our mutual childhood reading compulsions and omniverousness of everything that appeared on the then, in the 50s, so much more classily stocked drug store paper back racks.] for having had the luck of two first rate writing teachers at Oakwood, Terry Matern, whose forever coral fever blush, [courtesy of this Navy Seal tangling with the wrong organisms during WW II] brought me Whitman; but especially Yoshira Sonbanmatsu who introduced a fine class of '54 to Ibsen, Joyce [including Finnegans Wake so that I nearly knew Anna Livia Plurabella by heart] classical Greek Drama, Chekhov, Butler, etc. etc. And so I am puzzled why Frank would need to boast on a matter such as this; as though he had been a know-it-all boy-genius, who could do it all on his own! It's an unfortunate reprieve of this "I could have gone to Harvard" that we find in Stop Time, and an aspect of the competitiveness, but also characteristic of the drivenness of many a success story, but here, at a time, when he appears to have thought he had reached some kind of pinnacle and needed to re-dress the past. -There is some unnecessary defensive stylization going on in that interview, which I find odd and, by and large, uncharacteristic of the man I knew, when I knew him at his best, and loved, but perhaps not well enough, and which perhaps only in Dubuque and Haverford buy whole cloth. So near and yet so far. So far so near.

 Thirdly, and somewhat more importantly - on the matter of Frank's not caring whether he would be a writer or not planning on being one - must be one of the major hoots to come this hoot owl's way in some time: Frank was the first person at Haverford I, with all these intervening years, recall actually meeting, encountering - I think prior and beyond room mates, deans, hated dietitian, etc. etc., - and it was in front of Barclay Hall, in Fall 1954: a gaunt, acned, freckled six foot something teenager who, however, had an instant something and so made an instant lasting impression as did so few others well remembered buddies at Haverford, it isn't many, and in some ways Frank and I never stopped talking once the conversation had begun and for the reason of some affinity, but which remains unhappily unresolved at his too early death,

that then discovered many transactional affinities in music and literature, and the occasional woman, I near instantly asked him what he wanted to be. In memorably certain terms, he said: I am going to a writer, a matter, at least professionally, in that respect, I felt some uncertainty about, as I do still, though Body and Soul tells us that he was less certain than he let on, no matter that we all, including his first wife, were attracted by the fact that at least one of us seemed to be certain of something!

We not only had John Ashmead as a writing and English professor, but Gerhard  Friedrich, as well as someone who taught creative writing at Bryn Mawr, name irretrievable I suppose since she was not a personality, her claim being that she wrote for the Reader's Digest did not impress the snobs though the Digest's financial terms ought to have. [However, Frank referring to the substantial Ashmead in his anything but luminous – a word to be banned as ought to be plangent – in his essay collection Dogs Bark but the Caravan moves on – "let me call him Professor Cypher", actually deserves a posthumous whipping for the gratuitous crime of condescension .]

At the beginning of Sophomore year, when Frank and Jamie Johnston [who had been Frank's room mate during his Freshmen year, in Barclay's, but classmate of mine already at Oakwood School, fellow room mates all during out sophomore year [Martin Weigert, a biology major as the fourth roomie and his science sanity put up with us] decided that the threesome all wanted to learn classical Greek - who knows why we chose that difficult task amongst the ample choices? Was it I who had at least a hint of the benefits that can accrue a writer who has a grounding in Latin and Greek? In the event, the Haverford Greek professor, a Mr. Post, was well gone, and after two sessions of his melodiously intoning the beautiful word Thalassus Thalassus [the sea] but nothing else, we departed this absurdist [Ionescoish I would have said a year or so later]  deported ourselves with astonishing alacrity for the creative writing course at Bryn Mawr, whatever siren beckoned whom? The advantages of this course of action were several. We were asked to write a story a week [productivity], we read our stories out loud [response/ sense of community, or lack thereof] and we discussed the assigned reading [at least one story or book a week - developing, differentiating tastes], the rest of the pleasures that French House at Bryn Mawr afforded being left to the imagination, tea and cookies. I recall two young Bryn Mawr women who attended that class, Barbara Taze, because I dated her, as did forever hound dog Jamie [though later on, in New York, Frank, it turned out, was the most libidinously inclined of us all, albeit "with discretion"], all of which only became clear on living some time among a decadent Mexian tribe in the Copper River region where the men had nothing better to do than steal each others women and the women had nothing better than… and where you only find vestiges of whatever anthropological scheme that had once sought to regulate these Darwinian impulses; and someone whose name I believe was Dee McNab Brown, who later became an editor in New York, who said that I had to be queer for liking Faulkner's A Rose for Emily! No, I am not particularly queer, but my kind of European childhood and the past of my many disintegrated families ensures a certain necrophilia, no doubt one reason I took to Faulkner during my Freshmen year like a fish to water and organized each and everything around Faulkner [one great advantage that Haverford afforded an obsessive] except the Psych part of Soc-Sci 101-102, where my resourcefulness regrettably failed to imagine that I might have convinced Professor Campbell and his forever mice that maybe I could do a paper on "Rodents in the American South", or "Mississippi Rats" which would at least tangentially relate.

Paula Dunaway was not in the writing class, but later scored an amazingly superior score in the Graduate Admission test, which still did not get her get into Stanford and - typically lacking the requisite compulsion - got lonely, got married, dropped out of Yale Comp Lit, had kids and only wrote... a cook book. Someone sufficiently complicated and motivated who might have been in the writing class, Renata Adler, who became one of our more important writers, was not either, and didn't seem excessively talented at the time. I am sure I forget many others. Connie Horton [BM '58] was a talented poet, but not in the writing class either I don't think. We had a running joke about the "snap crackle and pop school" of poets from Bryn Mawr, no doubt all supporters of the arts now courtesy of the successful men they married, a Marianne Moore is a one in a century. Perhaps Renata in all her oddity is, too. As was Mary McCarthy at Vassar in whose and Edmund Wilson's bed Renata was so glad to have slept she nearly married their son!

At Haverford there may have been three other men interested in writing in a student body of approximately 400 who shared Frank and Jamie's and my interest - without Bryn Mawr the situation would have been dire beyond the desert. We didn't avail ourselves of the opportunity to take accreditable courses at Swarthmore, Penn or Temple. Frank, in the brief section in B&S with a Haverford-Bryn Mawr setting, has its protagonist, Claude, who bears fewer traces of Frank than one might expect - sort of a fantasy wish fulfilment idealized alternate entirely artistic self - living off campus. The older men, who were there on the G.I. bill, lived off campus, too, and did not have to put up with the sex police, that might pursue you from one campus to the other,  or come and sniff your sheets. [No one will believe it now!]

Frank, as a Junior, studied with Elizabeth Bowen who taught at Bryn Mawr that year, as did Paula Dunaway, who looks utterly enchanting sitting at Ms. Bowen's feet in a photo that appeared in the NY Times on the occasion of its recent obit of Bowen, which I think is how Paula came to be the Bryn Mawr editor in 1958, I certainly did not or was in no position to pick her from far away Berlin; and Ms. Bowen persuaded Alfred Knopf, her publisher, to sign Frank to a famous $ 100 book deal, the cheapest way, I expect, of tying up and encouraging a possible major leaguer that a publisher ever devised .

Fourth, as to Frank being a "hipster": I think that those who use that term in this instance know whereof they speak. Certainly the terminally boring David Halberstam doesn't. But there is something forever square about most regular NY Times reporters so I have found over the years. I don't know why McGrath in his N.Y. Times obituary of Frank quoted Halberstam, the laziness of journalists I suppose, of not taking that extra step that a novelist or cub reporter would take. Halberstam did not show up at Elaines until about 1967 or 8 on his return from Poland . Frank and I and a lot of people were part of the wood work of Elaine's by 1965. People fled the Big Table as David's heaviness was about to descend and doom us, and David Halberstem, no matter his Vietnam days, and his many admirable and astute journalistic accomplishments, couldn't tell a hipster from an old woman with a broken hip! If anyone was a hipster at Elaine's, or within our growing circle of acquaintances and explorations of the heights and depths of New York City, San Francisco and L.A., who at least set some kind of standard for the term, it was the song lyricist Jerry Leiber [ Houndog, Jailhouse Rock, Poison Ivy, Little Egypt, Moon over Spanish Harlem, Is that All there Is, all the Coasters songs, etc, etc.] who for as a mother had someone who had a deli at the border between a Jewish and black ghetto in and because, as a teenager in L.A., he started hanging out, not just with the coolest of West Coast jazz musicians, but, appalling the cool crowd, the R + B Delta Ditch musicians of those days... and living an entirely black life before taking the Tin Pan Alley route for some years before, so typically, success led to self-stylization. Frank had some real cool and a high I.Q., and having grown up for many years in New York and attended and survived Stuyvesant High, was hip to a fair number of the shoals and eddies of the City that the overly trusting country bred such as myself had the long road of pain to learn, though you would never have guessed that Frank had any kind of cool from some of his, the least cool, behavior at Elaines, which, for me was yet another home away from home where I could be fed at midnight, with the occasional huge wet good night kiss from Mama, who thought she may have started off as the Madam of a lesbian joint, loved her boys and was bad on women, especially on those who had broken one of her boys' heart, so that it was the rare broad who could hold her own there, but once she did the broad was treated like a boy, unfortunately my wife, even though we had our wedding meal there, couldn't or we might still be married, but Elaines, in one of its many respects, was your standard stupid American Moose Head Banging testing ground for quite a few of the challenged male egos of the writers who went there. And to run with Norman Mailer was to run with the asses... What may appear exotic from a Haverford or Iowa perspective, on the close inspection of intimate acquaintance, is as so much in American life: within millimeters of the glamour courses the poison.

Frank and I saw a great deal of each other once I returned to New York in 1961 after two years of Stanford and nine months of working adventurously in interior Alaska, though we had also spent part of the summer of 1959 on a ranch in Arizona and traveling, with Frank's first wife, Patricia Ferguson, BM '57, to Malibu to visit Jamie Johnston, who had left Haverford for the New School after his sophomore year and who would marry Hilda Enos, BM 57 or 58; [shouldn't Haverford-Bryn Mawr have some kind of mascot symbolizing the progeny of all these unions?] and then on to a Louisiana bayou plantation to visit Avis Fleming, BM 58, who married Paul Hodge, Haverford 59 I think, and then back to New York, without stopping once, spooky Mississippi, all the while playing chess while driving, pretty even steven as the score went, which is why it continued to pose a challenge, I could be quite nonchalant, and usually won when my killer instinct was not the chief motivation, as we then did, too, for most of that summer, a good deal of which, however, was also spent at a place that Frank's mother had near Roxbury Falls in Connecticut, and a ricochet romance with the girl from next door to Franks house on 86th Street who had left Bryn Mawr prematurely and, as I would find out later, had been Frank's lover during his engagement to his wife. I imagine I must have saved up money teaching at Stanford and managing a dorm at Menlo Park Junior College, for summers usually meant having to find some kind of menial but ultimately very Americanizing work.

The world was expected of Frank's talent, but the book he completed, in the early 60s, to fulfill his Knopf contract came as a let down, something about a priest is all I recall. However, since we had never been too hard on each other I, at least, was willing to publish a section of it in Metamorphosis, a magazine that I was editing, as of 1961, with Fred Jameson [H. '54], whom I had met in Berlin, more likely than not at the Ensemble, since my self-assigned course of study meant going to the theater for six months straight night after night! And a lot of reading, chiefly all of Brecht and Georgy Lukacs. However, neither Fred, nor the magazine's publisher, Michael Lebeck [Yale '56] thought highly enough of the book, and obviously I was not sufficiently 100 per cent to insist on having my way. Stop Time Frank started to write at about the time of the birth of his first son [Patty and Frank having their respective babies], and I read chapters of it as Frank wrote them as he birthed his self in a cubby hole of an office, he said and I believe it is true that he had never worked harder than at this birth, at one of those magnificent, somewhat down at heels and facade turn of the 19th century sooted brick fortresses on Park Place, opposite City Hall, via the park there, in Manhattan, while he and Patty and their first son had moved to Brooklyn Heights. As I was doing work for Partisan Review, I showed one or the other chapter to Richard Poirier who was only too happy to publish it there. Frank was getting chapters pre-published all over the place - Paris Review, the New Yorker, Esquire - and he could not have been prouder, also of the check stubs that he pinned to a cork board; the first honest money since the $ 100 advance that he had earned writing, except perhaps for a review here and there. Frank, most importantly, was able to live as a writer, and at some leisure, because he had inherited a small annuity, and because his wife had a far greater annuity from her grandfather, a detail that Frank uses in Body and Soul, although I don't think Body and Soul, though it contains some autobiography, and occasionally links up with Stop Time and Mid Air, can be or need be or should be subjected to what we term autobiographical reading - a lot of details making for jumping off points is another matter - except at moments , such as the enlarged reprieve of a moment in Mid Air where he mentions that his wife "never happened", Patti Ferguson whose depth and responsiveness no where in his work find appreciation, no matter that Frank had a point in that Patty wasn't much fun for a young man on the make and who wanted to get to know Manhattan. And to find a woman, even someone you weren't involved with on any but a runaround level, posed a challenge. And perhaps it still does in these so different times.

Absent that financial security, Frank wanting to be a writer might have entailed taking on all kinds of drudge work, or in his instance becoming a professional jazz musician, instead of playing one day a week, as he then did at Casey's or Bradley's in The Village, if he was even paid for those delightful Monday evening gigs; if, as a writer, it would have meant developing the versatility of a Joseph Heller, who wrote ad copy for many years while working on Catch 22, or Mario Puzo and Bruce Jay Friedman, the latter a good friend, both of whom worked the lowest rungs of grub street as they became pros, so many there of course remaining grubs all their live long lives, though Wilfred Sheed, a good friend, via Frank, was proud to be "a hack." [He too was present during one of those makers, the Kennedy assassination, at Frank and Patti's brownstone in Brooklyn Heights .] But what a hack! In that sense, Frank, to some extent, remained an amateur, and also child of "the Fifties", as I then learned to appreciate this amazing American way of organizing its memoryless history. 


As Stop Time was composed I saw a good deal of Frank, not only in Brooklyn or the cubby hole, I may have been first reader of many parts, but at a bar to which he had introduced me on my return from a reprieve of my junior year abroad, in December 1964, the now famous Elaines. I well recall his confessing to me one evening that he was fast becoming the most famous unpublished writer of books in New York, and my failing to say that he shouldn't let it get to his head. But this ground swell and the positive reception that Stop Time enjoyed - and to the extent that, not having a second book in the oven, Frhttp://www.haverford.edu/news/stories/25981/51ank nonetheless lived and acted within the kind of company that latches on to the hottest new thing as though he was more accomplished than in fact he was - this building headiness not only led to a somewhat earlier completion of Stop Time, I think, than the book deserved, but to his being dumped overboard, to the sharks, if your yen is to sail the company of icy millionaires like Mike Nichols; and Frank's heady, infused acting out of his make believe crashed to an abrupt end when his wife finally showed him the door and exile to Nantucket [ what actually kept him from staying in NY as a divorced husband?], thus the eighteen year interim between books, which details, best as I can tell, is recounted with requisite honesty and laconicism in some of the stories he then published in Mid Air - the subject of living purely "in style" is addressed very nicely, in that story about the three Lord Fauntleroys, and honestly I think I can say since I was on the observant side lines of a tightnit circle that my weaknesses along that line didn't have the requisite time to break into, for me to have affairs "with discretion" or live out a purely imaginary existence; and to the financing of which living "in style," via unfulfilled screenplay advances, I gained unexpected insight as an agent, representing the chief German publisher, working out of the Lantz-Donadi offices in the Steinway Building on 57th Street, where mother Candida was Frank's agent.

I far prefer the mini-novels of Mid Air to Stop Time, Frank has become a real writer at that point, though some of the slighter things in the collection might have been left out. Their inclusion may have been the doing of Sam Lawrence, its publisher, someone I once worked for in Europe , to "bulk" the book out. [ It is a good thing to have been in the very innards of the beast of publishing] The response to the important things in Mid-Air smacks of the usual preference to eat the parfait that you loved once [ Stop Time] also the second time at the same Mom and Pop shop. I have followed this kind of phenomenon for some years in my position as an expert on Handke who has molted at least half a dozen times, with the inbetween molting stages sometimes being the most interesting. And so, to those who know how to weigh the laconic... it contains rich obliquenesses for the attentive interested reader. Mini-novels. Condensation. Every word, every phrase... counts... and needs to sink into the mind's pool.

It is all there, and there is no need to treat of all these matters in the whatever platitudinous ways of the journalisms of the age. "A long stretch of uninterrupted time is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience" - Walter Benjamin, On the Fairy Tale, Leskov.

Tide and Tide tells us that Frank first went to Nantucket in the summer of 1956, not just in his middle age [he was not middle aged in 1971], after his Sophomore year, with Patricia Ferguson, Jamie Johnston and Hilda Enos, Connie Horton, soon to be a Greenleaf ed, and some other Haverford Bryn Mawr couples, while I spent the summer in Fort Belvoir with parents whom I had not seen for years since the had gone to Japan and Korea. I myself visited Nantucket twice, once in the 60s while Patty and Frank had a house there, and I found their living rug their retriever to be a surrogate for something else I ought to have hugged; the second time in 1974, with a French-American woman as cool and hip and passionate yet faithful and faithless as they come, and which I spent more time hugging than talking to Frank about the serious matter that we might have talked about. Frank had a lousy back due to a strain incurred fishing for scallops and approved of the girl, but this time I was not going to leave him alone with her. Maggie, his second wife, seemed to have the makings of a trooper. But I liked Nantucket , not that someone who bristles at any but self-imposed constriction could ever live on an island for long. The opening of Frank's Of Time and Tide has a wonderful sense of the metaphysical and remains an oddly unsung book, perhaps because it appeared in a series with Crown Books, for there is nothing like having a writer with a sense of place write about a place that he has known for fifty years. Looking at the Map of Nantucket that comes with the book it is a fine retrospective experience to trace how the book ultimately covers, fills in all the place names.

That time, in 1974, was also the second to last time that Frank and I actually physically met, the last being in D.C. in the spring of 1986 prior to my going back to the West Coast. It was clear that Frank no longer wanted to resume the old closeness, he had never come to see me while I was the co-publisher of a firm in New York and he retrenched contact with most all old New York friends while making a new life for himself and taking stock of what had gone wrong in New York during the years 1958 to 1971, with one year in the U.K., I believe, which are condensed in the Mid Air stories. I left a message for him prior to a Body and Soul reading he gave in L.A., where, among some other matters, I was engaged in intensive study of psychoanalysis, but have no idea whether he ever received it. In D.C., with me in the full hunting and riding shape, as I had done in Billy the Kid country for the year before, I encountered someone - I had been warned by the one other then still living of the three Lord Fauntelroys - but could have never imagined the huge bowl of jello within which the once gaunt and lanky now reposed. I considered whether someone who was autistically fussy, helplessly hyper-sensitive to the gruesome food that Ms. Nugent [a bad college dietician will be remembered by name] had inflicted on us at Haverford might have a wife who found the way to his heart also via his stomach. But no, Maggie claims to be a lousy cook, and the explanation for the jelly bowl was that Frank had diabetes, telling of which ailment, might have averted misunderstandings, but he merely stated that he realized that, physically, he was in bad shape. Which raising of the issue of hyper-sensitive fussiness brings me to the consumption of texts, where Frank was equally fussy, but by no means precious, whereas I, who can force himself to eat near everything but over-cooked broccoli, as an editor and publisher, no matter how exacting, had, also necessarily, a far broader range of tastes. The old competitiveness showed the following morning, my then perfect memory - do not compete in walking memory lane with Marcel Proust when he has recently has undergone a complete regression under psychoanalysis. My chess playing was far too aggressive, and so I lost the two games, even after sacrificing my Queen in the second game! But Frank's memory was as shot as his body, it had exerted itself for Mid-Air I suppose, and then decided to let the past be gone, which some say is a healthy step to take. However, since I was a historical writer who had written out his history when young but meanwhile has accumulated a new one… I continued to be, and still am, puzzled how he had become an apparatchik in the administration of American cultural largesse, as little as that is, a politician, but then I dwell on some details in Stop Time... and I think I can smell a bit of the hustler there even during his high school days.

If someone who thinks the world of Stop Time, and taught at Iowa prior to Frank's time there, hadn't asked me about Frank's buddies appearing in his work I might have never gone back to Body and Soul, which disappointed direly on its publication. Never has this ex-publisher seen such piles of hard covers on the for sale desks. As to the buddies, they are folded into one who bears the name "Ivan", but this Ivan is not the Ivan Morris buddy who bears a different name in the Lord Fauntelroy story in Mid-Air. It occurs to me that B & S, on completed reading and some consideration, is ultimately the perfect American movie fantasy, it's the fantasized life that could not be lived out: Boy gets girl, but girl has mended her high-handed ways and become studious and tame, yet boy doesn't need to marry her! As this would interfere with his concert career. Boy is the ultimate success story, hard work pays, obstacles, including a brief bout of depression, can be overcome. At its end there is the perfect homosexual union with the father - the father and son and the holy ghost being the syn- and dissynchronicity of the music of the spheres, and a melding of races and colors into a certain sheen, of which Claude, as the major character is called, is nonetheless allowed to remain oblivious except of its displaced transfigured musical acting out... Anyhow, skipping a lot of talkiness, about one fourth of the book's 480 pages are extraordinary pages, chiefly in part III, it suddenly takes on life in Part One with the description of a Brearly "mixer" and with the appearance of "Catherine." Actually quite a sly book, too. Perhaps even all that talkiness, instead really narrating, is a form of throwing sand into our eyes, but it sure tries your patience, at least it did mine. What I found extraordinary was Frank's getting beyond the autobiographical and writing better when his imagination, not just his observational powers, deepened, took flight, which of course it doesn't often enough; for this must be one of the more lumbering spruce gooses as it keeps scraping the runway before it is finally airborne to honk victoriously toward the end. At that end, the jazz convinces on the immediate sensate level, and must be one of the few moments in fiction where anyone brings off the convincing, felt and feelable representation of swinging... in unison... but that is the way that realism when it gets lucky goes. It is of course most unfortunate that Frank's optimistic assessment, during our college days, that cancer would be curable during his life time has not come to pass.


Michael Roloff, March 2006, Seattle 

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