JOHN GARDNER: The Life and Death of a Literary Outlaw

Barry Silesky, Author
Barry Silesky, Author . Algonquin $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-56512-218-5
Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-56512-759-3
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In the 1960s and '70s, when literary authors had the widespread appeal of rock stars, John Gardner was the perfect icon of the era: a highly regarded novelist who partied hard and rode a motorcycle. Silesky's briskly paced biography follows the controversial author of The Sunlight Dialogues and other bestselling and critically acclaimed novels from his rural beginnings near Batavia, N.Y., to the motorcycle accident that killed him at the age of 49, days before his third wedding. In between, Gardner led an intense, active life, producing enormous amounts of fiction and medieval scholarship, writing librettos and children's books, and editing academic journals, all the while building a highly successful teaching career in which he mentored dozens of young writers. At the root of Gardner's frenetic race toward literary greatness was, according to Silesky (Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Times ), a tragic childhood accident—his younger brother was killed by a 1,500-pound farm machine that John was driving—that left him with a deep sense of guilt and of his own mortality. In Silesky's book, the alcoholic, emotionally and physically reckless Gardner plows into his success at full speed and then summarily self-destructs. Drawing from Gardner's interviews, lectures and autobiographical fiction, as well as the testimony of friends and relatives, Silesky's account is well researched, though his dull, expository writing never delves deep. But Gardner's combination of genius and excess makes him a powerfully compelling character, and this book will pique renewed interest in his vast body of work. Agent, Nat Sobel. (Jan. 23)

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