Issue 55, Fall 1972
There is a kind of minor writer who is found in a room of the library signing his novel. His index finger is the color of tea, his smile filled with bad teeth. He knows literature, however. His sad bones are made of it. He knows what was written and where writers died. His opinions are cold but accurate. They are pure, at least there is that.
He's unknown, though not without a few admirers. They are really like marriage, uninteresting, but what else is there? His life is his journals. In them somewhere is a line from the astrologer: your natural companions are women. Occasionally, perhaps. No more than that. His hair is thin. His clothes are a little out of style. He is aware, however, that there is a great, a final glory which falls on certain figures barely noticed in their time, touches them in obscurity and recreates their lives. His heroes are Musil and, of course, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Bunin.
There are writers like P in an expensive suit and fine, English shoes who come walking down the street in eye-splintering sunlight, the crowd seeming to part for them, to leave an opening like the eye of a storm.
“I hear you got a fortune for your book.”
“What? Don't believe it,” they say, though everyone knows.
On close examination, the shoes are even handmade. Their owner has a rich head of hair. His face is powerful, his brow, his long nose. A suffering face, strong as a door. He recognizes his questioner as someone who has published several stories. He only has a moment to talk.
“Money doesn't mean anything,” he says. “Look at me. I can't even get a decent haircut.”
He's serious. He doesn't smile. When he came back from London and was asked to endorse a novel by a young acquaintance he said, let him do it the way I did, on his own. They all want something, he said.
And there are old writers who owe their eminence to the New Yorker and travel in wealthy circles like W, who was famous at twenty. Some critics now feel his work is shallow and too derivative—he had been a friend of the greatest writer of our time, a writer who inspired countless imitators, perhaps it would be better to say one of the great writers, not everyone is in agreement, and I don't want to get into arguments. They broke up later anyway, W didn't like to say why.
His first, much-published story—everyone knows it—brought him at least fifty women over the years, he used to say. His wife was aware of it. In the end he broke with her, too. He was not a man who kept his looks. Small veins beganto appear in his cheeks. His eyes became red. He insulted people, even waiters in restaurants. Still, in his youth he was said to have been very generous, very brave. He was against injustice. He gave money to the Loyalists in Spain.