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370 Western American Literature Saroyan’s literary voice was not, strictly speaking, a style like Heming­ way’s (with whom he has been, quite incorrectly, compared). Saroyan was apparently never sufficiently self-conscious as a writer to develop a style; what distinguishes his work is the voice of a man who can talk well—who can seem humorous, sentimental, tragic, whimsical, serious, solemn, or whatever else the occasion requires. Saroyan may have been influenced by the tradition of western tall-tales (especially as developed by Mark Twain) and Armenian story-telling, but there is nothing quite like his achievement among the works of earlier Ameri­ can writers. The idea of a personal voice as opposed to a cultivated literary style profoundly influenced western writers like Philip Whalen and Richard Brautigan. But the Saroyan voice itself has proven to be virtually inimitable, and it has been far more influential as an example than as a model. In The New Saroyan Reader, Brian Darwent offers “a connoisseur’s anthology of the writings of William Saroyan.” Darwent avoids merely reprinting such well known Saroyan works as “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” and “The Time of Your Life.” These are Saroyan’s formal literary achievements, but to read only them (and it is only these that most students of American literature know) is to overlook too much. Darwent has brought together essays, anecdotes, memoirs, sketches, and stories that collectively demonstrate the enormous range and power of Saroyan’s voice. At times the pieces are marred by a sentimentality and superficiality that would be intolerable in a “serious” writer like Hemingway, but here they seem only minor irritations or interruptions. As long as Saroyan is talking, we can forgive almost anything. Births and The New Saroyan Reader should prove important books for anyone interested in Saroyan, and for anyone who has not yet heard the magic of that voice, they are an excellent place to begin. EDWARD HALSEY FOSTER Stevens Institute of Technology Saroyan: A Biography. By Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee. (New York: Harper &Row, 1984. 384 pages, $17.95.) At last critics are forgetting William Saroyan’s war against them, his tempestuous personal life, his disordered output, and are concentrating on his writing which, at its best, isvery good indeed. Asa result, he isbeing acknowl­ edged as the creative genius he actually was. For a period after the Fresno author’s death in 1981, it appeared that his son, Aram, would manage a final, bitter word on the father he did not really know or respect. Now, however, we have a more objective and interesting biography, one that tells a story worthy of the kind of a novel that Saroyan himself might have written (but not have revised very well), Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee’s Saroyan: A Biography. Reviews 371 This is a rich story, but a sad one, of an uneducated artist whose gifts were matched only by his ego and insecurity. Written anecdotally, the book is eminently readable. Gifford and Lee point to three major traumas that shaped Saroyan’s life: the death of his father in 1911, which led him to spend five years in an orphanage; his two tempestuous marriages to New York debutante Carol Marcus; his induction into the Army in 1942, an event that snatched him from a pinnacle of success and thrust him, an archetypal anti­ organization man, into a lock-step. It is clear that the death of his father haunted Saroyan throughout his life. He wrote about it, talked about it and, more importantly, was rendered profoundly insecure by it. He compensated by blaring his ego and that, in turn, made him a range of enemies that rivalled Attila the Hun’s. The Fresnan admitted the importance of the other two traumas: “Three years in the army and a stupid marriage had all but knocked me out of the picture and, if the truth be told, out of life itself.” Gifford and Lee’s biography is organized unusually. It begins in 1940 with Saroyan on top, then follows his life for ten years, then ventures back to his youth and forward again. Nonetheless, it is interesting and valuable, clearly the best...


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