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Monday, May 20, 2013

"A Writer's Life", a journalistic mess

A Writer's Life- Gay Talese

As much as I believe Gay Talese's prose is masterful and his ability to find and chronicle a story is unparalelled, I'm afraid to say that with "A Writer's Life" this amazing journalist has descended to Earth, revealing us the worst of his art, offering us a book that, contrary to "Honor Thy Father" or "Portraits and Encounters", amazingly absorbing reads, is quite mundane, even tedious to follow at times.

And that's a shame, because it could have worked. "A Writer's Life" aims to be a memoir of a veteran journalist looking back to some of his "adventures". But there’s very little of his personal life, and the book quickly evolves into something else, an unexpected account of Talese's failures, his shortcomings to find a story that his bosses would die to put in paper, or his inability to close his latest book. That could have been challenging and exciting, such a gifted writer showing us how hard it is to "wait for the click", as The National would say on personal favouite "City Middle".

But with few exceptions, this book is not capable of transmitting that doubt, weakness, lack of luck, bad timing or writer's block when facing a potentially good story. And it's because -and that's tough for me to say, as I admire Talese so much- of the author's ego and his self-indulgence. Instead Talese offers a monumental digression of 600 pages where he recapitulates and reworks pieces and bits of previous, unfinished or left behind stories, adding personal notes or wikipedia-like-facts. It's arbitrary, and despite at the end everything seems to connect, it's incoherent as a whole. As a book, it's simply weak. Again sorry to put my thoughts in words, but I believe this is just a packed compilation of material to fulfill a contract.

There are horrible passages. In particular I couldn't go on with the whole story of the restaurants, so pointless even Talese is incapable of not much more of accumulating notes for almost three decades -just a bunch of pages finished by 1999-. Others are much interesting, like the one in Selma regarding civil rights and liberties of the Afro-American people, the Lorena Bobbit trial or the one about the Chinese player Liu Ying. But this latest story is a clear example of the serious problem this book has with its structure. Talese clearly didn't think much about order his account of failed stories, so the trip to China appears quite early on the book, then vanishes for hundreds and hundreds of pages just to reappear at the very end. The effect is quite strange, to say the least.

Even masters can fail.

SCORE: 4,75/10

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