Sunday, January 20, 2008

Portrait of an Artist, As an Old Man by Joseph Heller

This is the second Joseph Heller book I've ever read. The first was Catch-22, of course. I read that once about fifteen years ago, loved it, and then never read it or anything else Heller wrote. I even tried reading Portrait a few years ago after picking it up in the bargain section of Barney Noble, but it didn't hold my interest then.

This time I was compelled from the start. Maybe because now I can identify more with Eugene Pota, the story's protagonist. He's a writer, inspired momentarily in a number of directions, but his inspiration fades quickly, leaving him frustrated and depressed. I'm not seventy-five years old, but I know the feeling of fleeting enthusiasm. Oddly enough, reading this book has energized me.

Portrait isn't a great novel, but it's interesting to me because it shows Heller's frustration and links it to the frustrations of many famous authors, most of whom died at an early age or in poverty or despair. I realize that I'm not crazy--or at least no more crazy than others who feel the need to write.

I feel like I need to pick my reading material carefully for a little while. I think I'll start with Wise Blood and then move to Miss Lonelyhearts and The Dream Life of Balso Snell. Those stories resonate with where I see my fiction taking me, and all of a sudden I'm driven to reopen my novel file and start plugging away. My mind will let me see this as a positive for a few days, until I start dwelling on the temporary abandonment of my humor book, or the essay that I started last week, or that line for a poem that charged through my head a while ago. Or I'll get overwhelmed with school again, or I'll just lose my motivation.

Or I'll keep churning away at this beast until it's finished. My choice, I guess.

3 comments:

Diana said...

Yes! yes! and more yes! to Wise Blood. I'm doing a Southern Women Writers class this semester, and Flannery O'Connor is the heartbeat. We're pairing up essays from Mystery and Manners (which I recommend) with stories right now. I can't get enough Flannery snark and weirdness.

Jason said...

Who else are you reading in that class? Carson McCullers, I imagine.

I was just thinking today how much more I like Reflections in a Golden Eye than I do The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Both are great, but Reflections is nice and economical like Flannery and Mr. N. West are.

Daphne said...

Great work.