Tuesday, July 29, 1980

New York Times letter by Richard Grayson: "Passengers for Sale"

Today, July 29, 1980, the New York Times features a letter to the editor by Richard Grayson, "Passengers for Sale":

New York Times

July 29, 1980

Passengers for Sale

To the Editor:

Unscrupulous people always take advantage of any new government regulation. Now that Mayor Koch has announced a ban, to begin Sept. 22, on single-passenger cars crossing the East River bridges during rush hours, how long will it be before some enterprising profiteer begins selling inflatable life-size dummies to lone motorists about to enter Manhattan from Brooklyn or Queens?

How will the police check for phony, non-human passengergs? A breathalyzer test to see if they’re breathing? And when government interference in our lives goes this far, who are the real dummies?

Rockaway Park, N.Y., July 24, 1980

Tuesday, July 8, 1980

Bellingham Review reviews Richard Grayson's WITH HITLER IN NEW YORK

The Summer 1980 issue of the Bellingham Review has a review of Richard Grayson’s With Hitler in New York on pages 48-49:

Book Review by Richard Dills

WITH HITLER IN NEW YORK AND OTHER STORIES, by Richard Grayson, Taplinger Publishing Company, New York, 1979, 190 pp., $7.95 (cloth).

Richard Grayson’s fictions in With Hitler in New York are marked by comic exuberance and sympathy. But they also raise the question: can an author be too playful for his own good? Don’t misunderstand, there is a lot to like in this exceptionally readable book ; it’s just that some of the pieces lack resonance because the author at times too much enjoys the sound of his own voice. Which may explain Grayson’s fondness for puns. An example from “What Really Happened in Cambodia”:
“We’ve got to find a nook or a cranny to hide out in tonight or we’re doomed,” says one refugee to his wife.

“But I don’t see a cranny,” she cries. “And I certainly don’t Sihanouk.”

And there are plenty more where that came from. In most of his stories Grayson uses a “patchwork” device wherein the story is pieced together with bits of dialogue, revery, incongruous observation and all-purpose non-sequiturs. This technique seems particularly appropriate for comedy, as it tends to emphasize absurdity and encourage puns and one-liners. It does not work as well—with one exception—with serious pieces unless fragmentation and loss of wholeness is essential to the story.

But, to the stories.

The despair and prurient interest of the personal ads we’ve all read in The Village Voice if not in our own hometown dailies is nicely captured in “Classified Personal.” And there are some nice ironies:
Love! Love! Love! Who’s got it to give? Lonely, love-starved W/M, 21, affectionate, handsome, muscular and understanding seeks guy with boyish good looks and smooth body for lasting relationship. Write OCCUPANT, Box 44, Carteret, N.J. 07915

“Occupant” seems just about right. But, even though the rest of the 37 or so personals carry the same degree of authenticity and/or irony, the piece as a whole escaped me. With two or three exceptions, the order of the personals appear to be just as random as that of a newspaper’s. The point, of course, is that Grayson has a significantly different audience—or, if not—at least an audience with significantly different expectations. (I will argue this point.) The author, then, must be more than a typesetter.

In “‘Go Not to Lethe’ Celebrates Its 27th Anniversary,” we discover a character named Grayson Richards who portrays a character in “GNTL” named Richard Grayson. The danger of such a story—aside from cuteness—is that by reducing a life to the commercially dictated structure of the daytime soap opera, the author risks the criticism often leveled at the soaps: that they entertain by trivializing serious emotional and ethical questions. I think Grayson just gets by here because even while his story raised these kinds of questions, I enjoyed reading the story. Also, I think it’s because the story is near the end of a volume full of comic invention, and read in that context “GNTL” has a place as a bit of extended tomfoolery.

“The Princess of the Land of Porcelain,” a non-comic piece, is a different story altogether. Here, idea and technique blend perfectly. In this story, fragmentation and loss of wholeness is the point. Leslie, a career woman, cannot resolve the conflict between her desire for freedom and her need to be taken care of. Leslie and her friends share the same beliefs, the same lifestyle, almost the same life.

However, her fears and her dreams separate her from her husband, Evan, and her lover, Ken. Even so, it is hard for Leslie to change or escape, for on the face of it she has what she wants:
. . . Evan was too involved with Sari to intrude on Leslie’s business. There were private things that did not require any discussions between them. Leslie and her husband operated on trust. They both had lots of psychic space. Everyone did. Ken had his Senate page, apart from Leslie. Sari was living with a radical therapist who rather liked Evan. It was all in the open.

Open and convenient, but lacking that sense of belonging and commitment which Leslie—to her own surprise—finds she needs but with the open-spacers regard with anathema. When her lover informs her that he is leaving town, Leslie is “. . . surprised at how surprised she was.” She does not, of course, make a scene or ask him to stay, but later that night she has nightmares even though she cannot fall asleep. She lies in bed with a cold, half-awake, half-asleep, feeling guilty because she wants to be taken care of.

“The Princess from the Land of Porcelain” shows Grayson at his best as he combines material with technique to produce a story with telling sympathy. If good stories make you think and make you care, then this is one of them.