DO I OWE YOU SOMETHING? A Memoir of the Literary Life

Michael Mewshaw, Author, Michael Meshaw, Author . Louisiana State Univ. $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8071-2852-7

Here's an author's nightmare: in 1977, as a young novelist, Mewshaw published an interview with Graham Greene. Mewshaw had a passing acquaintance with Greene and based the highly flattering piece on past conversation and the interview. After reading the piece, Greene fired off a letter expressing his "real horror," noting no other "journalist has done worse for me than you" before detailing every error he found. Mewshaw prints their correspondence as they slug it out, and the result is energizing and amusing. Throughout this literary memoir, Mewshaw recounts his interactions with literati, portraying himself—inadvertently at times—as all too human in his interactions with the famous. (Mewshaw himself, while much younger when he had these interactions, is the author of nine novels and five nonfiction books.) His anecdotes are humorous—e.g., after interviewing James Jones, he reminded the notoriously blunt novelist he hadn't "heard you say 'fuck' a single time"—and he deftly conveys his subjects with humanity and colorful, exaggerated detail. Mewshaw intersperses his literary career with his friendships with better known writers. His encounter with Anthony Burgess comes about because of Mewshaw's kind words about Burgess's novel Walking Slow, but ends with the humbling experience of an indulgent, overextended Burgess asking, "Do I owe you something? A letter? A recommendation? Money?" Written in a chatty, vibrant style, Mewshaw's memoir is not the stuff of great literature, but a good read with great gossip about himself and others. (Apr.)

Forecast:Putnam is publishing Mewshaw's new novel, Shelter from the Storm (Forecasts, Mar. 3), this month, which should heighten interest in the memoir. Look for a PW Interview with Mewshaw in the coming weeks.

Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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