Today's Orlando Sentinel-Star reviews Richard Grayson's Lincoln's Doctor's Dog:
April 18, 1982
Grayson is more than Bellow clone
Lincoln's Doctor's Dog and Other Stories
By Richard Grayson
White Ewe Press: Adelphi, Md., $11.95
BY J.F. HOPKINS
Special to Sentinel Star
"Lincoln's Doctor's Dog" is the title story of a collection of 22 fictions by a highly gifted young Florida writer and English professor at Broward Community College named Richard Grayson. I say fictions rather than stories, the conventional word. Most of what Grayson writes is not conventional. (These 22 fictions/stories originally appeared in 22 publications.)
In the last piece in the book, the author confesses – I think we may assume the narrator is speaking for the author – that he yearns to be part of The New Yorker world. Unfortunately for Grayson, I am not a New Yorker editor. As such, I would have gladly accepted, among other contributions, "A Sense of Porpoise" and "Here at Cubist College."
Early in the book, I thought of Saul Bellow. It wasn't a matter of influence. I find his work and Grayson's unalike. It was something else that brought Bellow, usually cited as our most cerebral fiction writer, to mind. Grayson has a splendid command of language, he is steeped in literary history, is highly intelligent. All things that have been said of Bellow. But the 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature never seems burdened by a feeling that he is but laboring in well-plowed fields, that the road to originality lies in constant experimentation.
Grayson is obsessed with avoiding those well-plowed fields. Straightforward narrative is old-hat, though to show that his hands are clean he occasionally takes time out to demonstrate that he can excel at this too. As a sort of unfair litmus test for whether you will enjoy Grayson, I quote two puns and a locker room exhortation by the Coah.
1. "There is no middle ground between us. I have led a bowdlerized life, while you have led a baudelairized one."
2. "…she had ignored all small Krafft-Ebbing warnings."
3. "Every time you think, you hurt the team. Every time you think you hurt the team you're right. Gents, get out there and win this one for Edmund Wilson!"
In still another vein, and unlike anything else in the book, is "I, Eliza Custis," written as a nineteenth-century memoir by a granddaughter of Martha Washington. I didn't find it compelling reading. But only a master of prose could have made such a narrative ring true, and it does. In the concluding piece referred to earlier, a young writer blurts out to Saul Bellow: "…your books mean a lot to me." My thinking of Bellow at the beginning of the book became more explicable.
My advice to the young writer would be to emulate Bellow in one crucial respect: Let your instinct be your guide. Don't worry about what's been done before. If Joyce took fiction as close as it can get to Yes and Beckett to No, there is still plenty of room somewhere in between for Saul Bellow. And for Richard Grayson.
J.F. Hopkins is an Orlando novelist and short story writer.