James Dickey

Henry Hart, Author
Henry Hart, Author Picador USA $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-312-20320-7
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 811 pages - 978-0-312-20416-7
Ebook - 640 pages - 978-1-4668-2865-0
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According to this assiduously researched bio, James Dickey (1923--1997), in the unfortunate tradition of poseur-poets with invented selves who sustain their facades with drink, plunged from dazzling promise to alcoholic decline. Few contemporary biographies have so exhaustively and graphically evoked the rise and self-destruction of a literary reputation. Yet the reader puts down Hart's frankly detailed tome wondering whether the author of Deliverance (1970) was worth the years spent tracking down what Hart depicts as his obsessive lying, his compulsive philandering, his exploitation of intimates, his spiral downward from postmodernist highflier to pathetic wreck. Hart, a poet and literary critic at the College of William and Mary, has produced a page-turner that compels because of the relentlessness of its dissection rather than by any grace of style. Whether anything will survive of Dickey's large literary output is more difficult to assess from this account, as relatively little of his prose or verse is quoted for analysis. Instead, Hart relies on Dickey's swaggering interviews and the many people who were mesmerized by his personality or injured by his abuse. As the poet slowly disintegrates, the impact is less tragic than pathetic. In Deliverance, Hart writes, the narrator ""continually debates whether he should tell a story or tell the truth."" Dickey apparently had no such qualms. 16 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Mar.) FYI: Crux: The Letters of James Dickey, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman, was reviewed in Forecasts, Oct. 25, 1999.
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