AN HONEST WRITER: The Life and Times of James T. Farrell

Robert K. Landers, Author . Encounter $28.95 (562p) ISBN 978-1-893554-95-5

Once regarded as a great chronicler of American urban life, James T. Farrell (1904–1979) wrote dozens of novels, most of which—except for the Studs Lonigan trilogy—are all but forgotten today. Wilson Quarterly senior editor Landers paints Farrell as an eccentric narcissist who held deep political convictions and an abiding faith in his own power to change the world. Farrell's fiction portrayed lower-middle-class Irish life on Chicago's South Side with an autobiographical naturalism that alienated him from childhood friends and attracted the attention of moralizing censors. In tandem with his "honest" writing, Farrell became deeply involved with communism and socialism, but "he awakened early to the horrors of Stalinism," and Landers recounts Farrell's in-fighting with fellow party members in detail. One wishes Landers spent as much ink on Farrell's personal life. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, he later struggled with failed romantic relationships, drug and alcohol abuse and years of poverty and creative uncertainty. Landers suggests, in the book's prologue, that Farrell's early abandonment was formative, though he does little later on to explore its continued significance. In the end, the ambitious, childlike Farrell is something of a tragic figure: Landers reveals that many of his peers, including Mary McCarthy and his secretary, Luna Wolf, thought him a hard-working compulsive who, for all his drive, lacked the stylistic genius to be a truly immortal author. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 03/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 978-0-8050-2580-4
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