Sunday, July 29, 1979
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reviews Richard Grayson's WITH HITLER IN NEW YORK & Jim Harrison's LEGENDS OF THE FALL
The Cleveland Plain Dealer today has a joint review of Richard Grayson's With Hitler in New York and Jim Harrison's Legends of the Fall:
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
Sunday, July 29, 1979
Section G, Page 8
Two collections of short stories are disappointing
LEGENDS OF THE FALL, by Jim Harrison; Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence, 278 pp., $10.95.
WITH HITLER IN NEW YORK, and Other Stories, by Richard Grayson; Taplinger, 190 pp., $7.95.
By James R. Frakes
About some books you simply hate to say a discouraging word because the author so clearly can write a sentence and hone in on a telling detail. How's this for an opening – "Nordstrom had taken to dancing alone"? How about a man who remembers the year when he stopped finding pennies in his pocket that were older than himself?
But solid fiction is more than a collection of fine touches. Harrison's three short novels range from the incredibly bad "Revenge" (almost a parody of the hot-blooded Latin, passion-driven-cuckold genre) to the admirable clunky failure of the title story. Somewhere in between is "The Man Who Gave Up His Name" – a sharply observant but scattered and sadly pointless rehash of Cheever and O'Hara.
The stories are strung together by a roaring machoism and a skein of continuing obsessions, including fury at government interference in anything. The intrusive narrator arrogantly patronizes the reader: "It is not necessary to know too much about the wounded man . . ."; "Now we must back away from the lovers and let them rest . . . Let us perch on the log mantel."
The title story is potentially a very tough and moving account of the three sons of a Montana rancher, but the novella form can't contain the "epic" series of events. It's really not a novella at all, but a compressed tetralogy, a summary rather than a dramatization. You'll find maybe half a dozen lines of dialog in its 80 pages. Harrison can write. I wish he would.
In his collection of 28 "stories," Richard Grayson also lets his obsessions show. The style throughout is resolutely brisk, the tone is arch (not to say fey) and the model is Donald Barthelme. (I am not disarmed by Grayson's anticipating me here: "Too much like Barthelme indeed!" the story howls. 'My dialogue has resonance!'")
Stories, you see, talk back to their author. Characters try to escape from their narratives. The author appears under his own name. Instead of "tiresomely conventional" short-story forms, we get Questions and Answers, fan letters to Chief Justice Burger, classified personal mating ads, soap opera "spoofs," academic not-too-far-in jokes. Plus some funny names (Sarah Lawrence of Arabia, Adlai Stevenson Rosenthal, Placenta Smith) and puns. When lovable Hitler visits his friends in Brooklyn, he freaks out when he sees Sen. Sam Ervin doing a commercial for American Express.
Oddly, the most effective pieces are five Jewish-family stories, almost traditional, never sentimental – see especially "Slowly, Slowly in the Wind" and "Driving Slow."
This is a funny, sad, patchy volume. It shines with intelligence and even wit, but it also contains a lot of scribbling, doodling, showing off. Richard Grayson seems to enjoy Richard Grayson very, very much. But you won't be bored.
James R. Frakes is the E.W. Fairchild professor of American studies at Lehigh University.
Saturday, July 21, 1979
In this week's issue (July 23, 1979) of The Village Voice, Arthur Bell's "Bell Tells" column has an item on Richard Grayson's With Hitler in New York:
By Arthur Bell
. . . Susan Braudy is writing a book about Sal Mineo. . .Truman Capote's Music for Chameleons will be a book in three parts. Part one: all new short stories. Part two: Conversations with Capote, which have been printed in Interview. Part three: A new work that Capote describes as "autobiographical and really something. It isn't quite finished yet." Truman hasn't seen or spoken to Lee Radziwell since he shredded her on The Stanley Siegel Show. . .
Richard Grayson, who lies through his teeth, writes from Brooklyn: "I have been reading you ever since I was a little kid." He signs his letter "respectfully." Respectful, he isn't. In his book, With Hitler in New York and Other Stories, Grayson writes about peeing next to Alan King in a movie theatre urinal, accosting Beverly Sills while she's eating a tuna sandwich, reminding Mary Lindsay that her husband supported Agnew while dancing with her, and having his foot stepped on. Beware of Richard Grayson, but read the book.
Tuesday, July 17, 1979
Today's Los Angeles Times devotes its book review to Richard Grayson's With Hitler in New York:
The Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, July 17, 1979
A Parade of Jewish Relatives
By Stuart Schoffman
With Hitler in New York and Other Stories by Richard Grayson (Taplinger, $7.95)
How to get a bead on Richard Grayson, the young Brooklynite who here offers 27 eccentric but noteworthy short stories? Yes, his fiction is experimental, which is to say it displays only selective respect for literary conventions and tends to be published in magazines with names like Confrontation and Bellingham Review. Genre aside, however, Grayson often resembles an astigmatic photographer who, searching desperately for the focus, twists his lens this way and that, finding a good setting only at random moments.
A telling detour en route to the stories: On the book's front flap, Grayson playfully confers responsibility for Jewish-American culture (which includes Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Al Jolson and "a certain kind of vulgarity typified by the town of Woodmere, Long Island") upon the bomb-wielding anarchist who assassinated Czar Alexander II in 1881, thus provoking the wave of anti-Semitism that swept millions of Jews to America. "So if you have any complaints about 'With Hitler in New York,'" he writes, "address them to the anarchist. . . I take no responsibility for this whatsoever."
Parlorful of Relatives
We thus anticipate a satirist but encounter instead a coy but compulsive autobiographer with a parlorful of predictable Jewish relatives, all the way up to Great-Grandma Chaikah who watches Dinah Shore. Grayson sketches his kin with the customary mix of scorn and love, but to make them as fascinating to us as they apparently are to him, he needs to work harder. And it is not enough to portray the young artist as soap-opera protagonist, as the author does in many stories. Alexander's anarchist may have made Richard Grayson inevitable, but he did not make him special
What is special, though, is Grayson's gift for dreaming up outrageous premises. In the title story, a frolicsome Fuehrer lands at Kennedy on a cut-rate Laker flight, sips an egg cream, pushes his American girlfriend into a swimming pool. "'You're a sadist, you know that?' Ellen says to Hitler."
Or consider "Chief Justice Burger, Teen Idol":
"COMING NEXT MONTH….
EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT WARREN BURGER!
– Secret facts
– Complete judicial record
– How to make him love you."
But the Burger-as-Travolta gags go on and on, interchangeably, and next comes a piece in which Abraham Lincoln is "a big klutz" who hates to shave and complains that he's sick of flapjacks. After reading a lame spoof of those bisexual-albino-seeks-same personal classifieds, we begin to suspect that Grayson is shaking funny ingredients together like dice; by the odds, good numbers will sometimes come up.
Story as Character
The most affecting piece in the collection is a wry and self-knowing one entitled "But in a Thousand Other Worlds," in which the main character is the story itself. Rejected by the New Yorker, then the Atlantic, the story is rushed to Coney Island Hospital, where its condition is diagnosed as hopelessly unpublishable. "Richard's face was buried in his hands. 'I never gave it the care I should have,' he said."
We are hardly surprised to arrive at the rear dust-jacket flap and discover that Grayson's stories "have appeared in more than 125 literary magazines over the past seven years." Conservatively assuming one story per magazine, that comes to an average of a story every three weeks. If the author could just slow down, his talent might seem far less of a blur.
Schoffman is a regular contributor to the Book Review.