cover image Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane

Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane

Paul Auster. Holt, $35 (800p) ISBN 978-1-250-23583-1

Stephen Crane (1871–1900), the author of the classic war novel The Red Badge of Courage, cuts a dashing figure in this beguiling literary biography from novelist Auster (Moon Palace). Delving into Crane’s tragically short and impossibly romantic life, Auster covers Crane’s stint in New York as a freelance journalist, his international celebrity after the publication of his novel, a scandal in which Crane defended a prostitute from false charges of solicitation, the shipwreck that inspired his famous story “The Open Boat,” his reporting under fire during the Spanish-American war, and his death from tuberculosis at the age of 28. Along the way, Auster intertwines the engrossing picaresque with probing interpretations of Crane’s works that consider his intensely lyrical writing, vivid realism, and detached psychological dissections of his characters as they struggle with social isolation and nature (“Most people outgrow their childhood interests and occupations, but Crane never did,” Auster writes). The author also highlights the shipmates that, Auster writes, showed Crane “the subtle, unarticulated brotherhood, which in a universe without meaning is man’s only defense against unmitigated despair.” Auster’s sprawling narrative combines punchy writing and shrewd analysis with an exuberant passion for his subject. The result is a definitive biography of a great writer. Photos. (Oct.)