Non-Fiction: the truth, the whole truth, & something like the truth
Auto-Hagiography / Trainwreck!
More, Now, Again (Elizabeth Wurtzel) My inability to look away from a (human) train wreck was indulge in this mash-up of self-mythologizing, autobiography, and social narrative. If you’re into James Frey, Wurtzel’s like his naughty aunt. More, Now, Again reads like a sequel to the phenomenally successful, Prozac Nation – except instead of downers, now she’s hooked on uppers. Wurtzel’s “discovery” that she can use a mortar and pestel to crush painkillers and provide herself with more immediate “relief” is hilarious. Epic insomnia ensues, and Wurtzel spends months in Florida, steals a $598 Elisa Peretti bracelet from Saks Fifth Avenue, gets caught, (and then sues the cops – how dare they!), returns to New York, and moves into her publisher’s offices. There, she alternates ordering pizza with drugs, a wild ride en route to her inevitable destination … rehab!
Ye Gay Elder in his 60’s Recalls the (much more fun) Gay 70’s
City Boy (Edmund White) is a breezy, tour through the 70’s pre-Guliani New York – a time when a writer-on-the-make could move his acne plagued nephew into his large, Upper West Side apartment where he lives with his beautiful boyfriend (Keith McDermott, then starring on Broadway in Equus), write The Joy of Gay Sex, hit the gym & head downtown and dance with an amyl nitrate soaked bandana stuffed in his mouth at The Saint until dawn, walk to the Everard Bath, and have sex with (everyone) while Bette Midler sang with Barry Manilow on piano. Pre-AIDS New York City, in other words, when everything was fun, and you could get mugged walking to Times Square without seeing people wearing fanny packs.
Biography, Shaken not Stirred, Snapshots & Rimbaud on the Side
The Talented Miss Highsmith (Joan Schenkar) isn’t just a summer beach read, it’s an entire summer beach read. Weighing in at 684 pages, the biography is a very (very) detailed of Patricia Highsmith, the author of the popular “Ripley” series (featuring the “hero-criminal” Tom Ripley), Strangers on the Train (made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock), and The Price of Salt. Schenkar’s Highsmith is portrayed as a writer who is a true believer – of her future greatness (fueled by an epic mommy complex) – that manifests in her compulsive rewriting of events in diary-like cahiers (notebooks). At first, weird doesn’t begin to describe Highsmith and, though it’s true sometimes meeting (or, reading about) your heroes is an inevitable exercise in disappointment, over its many (many) pages, Schenkar’s “Pat” unfolds as less strange character than painfully human.
Mapplethorpe, A Biography (Patricia Morrisroe) and Just Kids (Patti Smith’s National Book Award winner) are perfect compliments. Morrisroe’s is the conventional biography (childhood, struggle, success), whereas Smith’s is impressionistic, and first hand (Smith and Mapplethorpe were lovers and room-mates before he came out and met his muse/mentor/patron, Sam Wagstaff.) Morrisroe’s biography details events that Smith leaves out (or, wasn’t present to observe: Mapplethorpe’s gimmicky, yet effective first opening(s) – at the uptown Holly Soloman Gallery, and downtown, The Kitchen), and people she either didn’t know (iconographic models, Milton Moore, Lisa Lyon, and Robert Sherman), or didn’t care enough about to recall. There’s a wonderful contrast between Morrisroe’s disciplined work and Smith’s, the latter casting her as wayward sister, limned with the bittersweet feelings evoked by a young artist who found her best friend in a lost boy and muse in poet Rimbaud.