Dark Contract

Matthew Bruccoli is, perhaps, the leading biographer of modern American novelists. With this book he scores something of a triple, as it appeared soon after his acclaimed lives of Fitzgerald and O'Hara. Like his other works, it is exceptionally well-produced. It is a handsome book, with a full apparatus of notes and documents.

There is a difference between biography plain and simple and a critical life. Bruccoli writes critical lives. This one not only evaluates the novels but debates the critics. Bruccoli's virtues are many and splendid: he writes clearly, honestly, and with great intelligence. He has a phenomenal grasp of the methods: interviewing, doing the archival work, risking interpretation of the life and its connection to the novels. Even the photographs are a joy. But his work is not quite at the level of those who—I am thinking of Richard Ellmann, the biographer of Joyce, and Carlos Baker, the biographer of Hemingway—have managed to join literary criticism itself to life study. Bruccoli knows how to summarize criticism, how to debate it, how to show whether it is fair. But he does not himself deploy it. His book on Fitzgerald, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, is first-rate, except that it says almost nothing of the work. Perhaps that should be put more precisely: the Fitzgerald book, like this book on Cozzens, does not interpret the text.


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