cover image It Starts with Trouble: William Goyen and the Life of Writing

It Starts with Trouble: William Goyen and the Life of Writing

Clark Davis. Univ. of Texas, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-292-76730-0

In this stellar biography, Davis (After the Whale) deftly examines the life of a complex and overlooked figure in the history of American literature. William Goyen emerged from smalltown East Texas and the WWII-era Navy to write the sort of lush, dreamlike prose more commonly associated with European writers than the Americans of the postwar period. Harnessing extensive archival research and new interviews, Davis stakes out the boundaries of Goyen’s involvement with the literary community and his evolution as an artist. Throughout, Davis expertly weaves in literary criticism of Goyen’s masterpiece, the novel The House of Breath, and his other fiction, which in combination reveal the urgency of his search for place and identity. Goyen found refuge from his outsider status in friendships with luminaries like Frieda Lawrence, Stephen Spender, Anaïs Nin, and Katherine Anne Porter. After moving around the country and living with several men, Goyen married actress Doris Roberts in 1963, taking a job at McGraw-Hill to pay for the domestic life he had avoided for so long. Nonetheless, Goyen kept writing, continuing to produce stories, poems, novels, and plays until shortly before his death in 1983. This lively and enlightening biography will resurrect Goyen’s brilliant writing for a new generation of readers. 19 b&w photos. (May)