Issue 68, Winter 1976
Dear Mr. Bernstein:
At the request of your publisher and our client, my col-leagues and I have now read and discussed the typescript of your book. We are pleased to report that, with the exception of some isolated sections which we will specify, the book is not, in our opinion, actionable and should not expose you to litigation when published. It is a work of scholarly analysis, thoroughly documented, and even though much of it is pungently expressed, it lies well within the area of fair comment. You have obviously “done your homework,”amassed considerable research, and consistently cited “chapter and verse,”so to speak, in tracing the sources of Avery Bream’s work. Your extensive parallel excerpts from his writings and the writings of others, from which you demonstrate his were derived, put you on firm legal, as well as literary, ground.
These parallels of style and subject matter are most impressive. Your own cleverness is rivalled only by that of Mr. Bream himself. I refer to his technique of borrowing a plot from one writer and retelling it in the style of another, thus achieving an artful act of camouflage undetected until now. I was astonished to learn, for instance, that his most famous best-seller. Evil Star, is practically a carbon copy of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, done in the style (or, as you put it, “filtered through the prism”) of James Branch Cabell. It was likewise illuminating to discover that his acclaimed Midnight Mushrooms is little more than Othello with the races switched, told in the manner of early Saroyan, and with no acknowledgement to Shakespeare (unless we count the title, a quotation from The Tempest); and that his Pristine Christine is none other than the Agatha Christie classic. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as it might have been written by Burroughs (you should clarify as to whether you have reference to William or to Edgar Rice) and with the Christine of the title (a play on Christie?) taking the place of the original victim. We suggest a title change, however, for Chapter III, in which the bulk of these and other parallels are cited. Even though The Thieving Magpie is the title of a famous opera, words like “thief’ should be avoided.
On p. 97, after you quote Bream’s statement, “I am the equal, in my fashion, of Tolstoy, Proust and Joyce”(from an interview in Newsweek), you make your point elegantly when you say: “The painter Ingres told those who likened him to Raphael, ’I am very small, just so high, next to him.’ The composer Rossini made a pilgrimage to kneel before the manuscript score of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, declaring it a sacred relic.”Why not leave it at that? To add, as you do, that Bream is “a conceited pig”not fit to “empty the bedpans”of Tolstoy, et al., is painting the lily, as well as flirting with litigation.
A similar example of gilding refined gold occurs on p. 118, following your sentence, “For over a decade, he has been prom&ising to astound us with a vast confessional tome of Rousseau-like candor in which he will beat his breast and cry mea culpa to a host of sins, literary and otherwise; but the years come and go, and the guilt-heavy volume never appears.”
That is fine, but the short burst that follows (“What’s the matter, Bream—chicken?”) is, from the legal point of view, touchy.
Our Mr. Vieck asks me to say that, speaking now not as attorneys but as impartial readers, we hope we may be for-given for commenting on the language you employ in Chapter VIII to describe the first Mrs. Bream. It seems inordinately biased in her favor. This is not, I reiterate, a legal point, but for you to call her “an angel whose delicate foot scarce touched the sordid earth when she walked” (p. 130), “too good by far, too radiant for this world” (p. 131), “an anthology of all the virtues” (p. 132), “a fount of undemanding, uncom-plaining love” (p. 133), “a golden spirit the like of which no mortal eye will ever see again” (p. 134), etc., strikes us as somewhat excessive. When such phrases are read alongside your less than complimentary remarks about her husband, the contrast tends to cast doubt upon your academic detachment.
In Chapter IX, Champion of the Overdog, you walk a tightrope in showing Bream as being a far cry from the fear-less anti-Establishment crusader and spokesman for writers’ rights he pretends to be. The change or deletion of a few passages should make the chapter safe from litigation. Second paragraph, p. 155, the word “coward”is ill-advised, as is the phrase in the next paragraph, “soul of a weasel.”Pp. 157- 158 make vivid reading, but in them you are guilty of that with which you charge Bream: lack of substantiation. “His oft-repeated claim to have broken the writing arm of a magazine editor who had ’emasculated’ his prose,”you say, “is less piquant than it might be if he would, just once, name the offending butcher.”Good point, but you spoil it (and skate on thin legal ice) when you add: “In fact, that editor has privately recounted the truth about the famous fray. Bream, it seems, had offered a timorous, whining protest to the emendations, thus provoking the overworked editor to gruffly respond, ’Damn it, I sweated blood to make that unreadable swill fit for human consumption. And this is the thanks I get?
You’re lucky I publish your shit at all! On the stressed word, the angered editor brought his fist down forcibly on his desk, breaking the little finger of his right hand.”You do not name the editor, either, you see, so the authenticity of both versions is suspect.
The same chapter (p. 159) contains a passage that could be considered defamatory not only to Bream but also to Siegfried Rheinfahrt, the book publisher. I refer to the quoted letter, from and to unidentified sources, which describes an incident at a booksellers’ convention: “You should have seen our dearly beloved Aviary buttering up that Nazi goniff, Rheinfahrt. I mean, it’s one thing for Aviary to change his name and try to pass for goy, and it’s another for him to fawn upon and flatter that lizard who’s not only a crook but an anti-Semite. Most of us snubbed Siggie cold, but not ol’ Aviary. Oh, no. It was nauseating. He did everything but kiss the s.o.b.’s ass, and maybe in the privvissy, as he’d say in that phony accent he’s begun to affect, of his hotel suite, he even did that.’’ The passage should be excised.
Are you sure of your facts (p. 201) when you describe Bream “running from bookstore to bookstore, spending his entire advance check buying up copies of his novel to get it on the [bestseller] list... “? What proof of this could you provide, if challenged? On the same page, how can you possibly know that he “not only wined and dined”but also “tickled more than the fancy”of the “aging female critic”who, according to you, “bears a startling resemblance to Samuel Johnson? Moreover, if we understand what you are suggesting in the “tickled”line, does this not contradict the allegation in your p. 492 footnote (see below)? Please think about these points carefully.
I’m afraid we cannot recommend the retention of your allusions to Bream’s income in the form they are now presented (p. 299). Nor do we quite understand the precise nature of your charges. Do you mean to imply that he failed to declare a substantial portion of his earnings for that year? That is a serious allegation. Or do you merely mean that he lied to the press, inflating the true figures in order to appear more affluent and successful than he actually was? Do you really plan to reproduce photocopies of his IRS returns? (I refer to such phrases as “See Plate 1,” “See Plate 2,”and so on.) How were these documents obtained? Your comments about his mother (p. 307) present no legal problem because she is deceased, although in some quarters these passages may be criticized on grounds of taste.
The telephone conversation between Bream and his psychoanalyst (pp. 349-350) poses a quadruple problem, how-ever. First: it could only have been obtained by wiretap, which is illegal. Second: it puts both patient and doctor in a most unfavorable light. Third: as our forensic medicine ex-pert. Dr. Kenney, reminds us, you are not a licensed psychiatrist, so you are not legally qualified to diagnose Bream’s mental condition as displaying evidence of “self-destructive tendencies... irreversible paranoia... dangerously sociopathic hostilities... desire for humiliation and punishment... schizoid hallucinations and delusions, ”etc. Fourth: as you point out by the long parallel quotations in the right-hand columns of these pages, the phone conversation is identical, word for word, to the conversation between the fictitious characters Dr. Proctor and Bernie Amber in Bream’s novel. Negative Feedback. You claim (but without adequate support) that the real-life conversation took place five months after The publication of the book, indicating that “Bream is perhaps the only novelist in history whose own life plagiarized his work. So cowed and mesmerized was his puppe t doctor by the fame of the celebrated patient that he responded on cue, Charley McCarthy-like, to Bream’s leading questions and insults.”Is it not possible, we submit, that you are mistaken about the date of the conversation? Might it not have occurred prior to the writing of the book, and been used as grist for the author’s mill (a not uncommon practice among fiction writers)? Indeed, is it not an open secret in literary circles that Amber is the most transparently autobiographical character in the entire Bream oeuvre? Is not AMBER—as our crossword fanatic, Mr. Fenwick, says—a simple anagram for BREAM? For these several reasons, we counsel you to forego this conversation.
Similarly troublesome is the first of the two footnotes on p. 492 (beginning “Freud, Jung and even Reich all agree...”). While it may be perfectly true that certain aspects of his lifestyle are indicators of “impotence or other sexual dysfunction”rather than the “prowess he publicly pro-fesses,”there is no way you can satisfactorily prove this, even by quoting the anonymous “Ms. X. ”Besides, here you are venturing into personal attack rather than professional criticism. We realize that you consider this an important insight into the ’ ’pathological sex episodes’’ of his work, which is the theme of this chapter, but we urge you to delete this foot-note, as well as the parenthetical reference (in the body of the following page, 493) to what you call his “underendowment.”The supportive Polaroid photograph which you indicate will appear on the “facing page”of the published book certainly must not be used. It is irrelevant that you obtained “the standard release form”signed by the photographer, his second ex-wife. What is required is a release from the subject, or model, Mr. Bream himself, and that, in our opinion, will be obtained only with the greatest difficulty. And surely the reference (same page) to his ’’vain attempts at solitary vice”(italics mine) is pure conjecture on your part?
(Before I forget it, allow me to backtrack and cover a couple of small spots I missed. In Chapter VIII, where you picture Bream’s miscegenational first marriage, is it necessary to say “murderously jealous rages’’ and ’ ’where the body is buried,’’ even though these expressions have a clearly metaphorical intent? They would not, perhaps, be problems were it not for the tragic sailing accident that took the life of the first Mrs. Bream, plus the fact that her body was never recovered. Some readers might interpret your figures of speech literally, as a monstrous accusation, and you would then be extremely vulnerable to the possibility of a lawsuit. Also inadvisable is the phrase, “Flowers die; rats live.”You really must not call Bream a rat. And only this moment Mr. Fenwick calls my attention to the fact that the title of Bream’s most famous novel is “rats live’’ in reverse—isn’t that interesting?)
Now for the bad news. We must seriously question the wisdom of your lengthy (95 pages!) Appendix, in which you provide, verbatim and unexpurgated, letters written over the years by various editors, creditors, writers, literary agents, relatives, former fans and friends of Bream’s, and so forth. The material, even if provably factual, is extremely damaging to Bream and was not originally intended by the letter writers for publication. In most cases, it seems unlikely that you have even secured proper permission. We strongly advise an appendectomy, that is to say removal of the entire Appendix.
Your revision of the above specified areas should protect you from litigation and, if I may say so, result in a most valuable work of contemporary scholarship which I, for one, found to be brisk reading. May I look forward to receiving a personally inscribed copy of the first edition?
WEST, FENWICK, SCHLUSSEL
MANN, KENNEY & VIECK
Arthur Lowell West
P.S. Our Mr. Schlusselmann points out the amusing coincidence that your name is the German equivalent of a well-known Bream character. Are you aware of this?