Legends of the Slow Explosion: Eleven Modern Lives

Baron Wormser. Tupelo, $19.95 trade paper (158p) ISBN 978-1-946482-10-5
Wormser (Unidentified Sighting Objects), a poet, memoirist, and novelist, offers an unusual take on the Cold War through 11 loosely connected biographical sketches of significant midcentury figures. Though only a few of the lives detailed concern the U.S.-Soviet standoff directly, Wormser finds each representative of how people in the 1950 and ’60s responded to the anxieties of their age. Included are political activists (Rosa Parks and Philip Berrigan), musicians (Miles Davis, Anita Day, and George Harrison), and writers (Hannah Arendt and Richard Yates), as well as diplomat George F. Kennan, painter Willem de Kooning, and CIA official James Jesus Angleton. Even Audrey Hepburn gets a turn, in an essay memorializing her unique charm as a protest against wartime despair. Wormser offers no new research on his subjects but inventively illustrates the artistic concerns of de Kooning and Yates and the troubled mind-sets of Kennan and Angleton as they tried to outsmart the Soviets. Essays on Arendt, Berrigan, Davis, and Harrison, however, meander into abstractions that fail to expose new insights. Often it is difficult to discern to what degree the interior monologues Wormser employs throughout are based on fact. Wormser’s imagination is one of the book’s foremost pleasures, but readers may find it obscures the line between myth and reality. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/29/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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