- Best, TomWhen Literary Promise Is Not Enough
But when you once start to believe in being special, then you have to go ahead and try. They never believed in it. But I do. I am.—Thomas W. Molyneux, “The Wrath Bearing Tree,” novel excerpt, the Greensboro Review, May 1966
Tom Molyneux was always going to be a writer. When we met as Harvard freshmen in the fall of 1961, we gravitated toward each other as friends, rivals, and fellow hellraisers who shared a literary bent. Neither of us came from money, but we had been sent to private schools that prided themselves on turning out young gentlemen, and we acquired some of the tastes, manners, and expectations of our wealthy classmates. By the time we graduated, we looked like prep-school poster boys. The intention was never to pass for something we weren’t, but to fit in and, of course, to prepare ourselves for the better things that were surely in store for us. And yet there was a kind of deception at work, a guilty uneasiness as we distanced ourselves from our families. Our literary ambitions, I think, arose partly from a desire to set the record straight and to claim an identity that was irrefutably our own. At Harvard, Tom and I lived in the same freshman dorm, joined the same social club, went to many of the same parties and outings, and both poured out our hearts—that is, our troubles—to the same Radcliffe woman, Cinder Stanton.
Tom could be outrageous. He was ridiculously handsome, blond and blue-eyed, as dashing as some figure who had survived from the Roaring Twenties. To classmates who knew him only at a distance and by reputation, he probably registered as another rich prick, over-dressed and hotheaded. On a balmy night only a few weeks into our first semester, Tom threw a party in his first-floor suite in Matthews Hall and the noise drifted out through the big open windows, drawing people from all over Harvard Yard. Before long the party had spilled out into the hallway and down the steps. The proctor, a small man who’d already had run-ins with Tom, came down to put a lid on it. He made the mistake of standing too close to one of the windows. Tom did not like being disciplined, and soon the proctor went sailing out the window.
That incident made Tom notorious and got him suspended. It wasn’t the only time that he was in trouble. In the fall of 1963, he was arrested after a Long Island debutante party got out of hand and the partygoers smashed nearly every window in a rented thirty-room house, an incident that made the New York Times under the headline, “Parents of L. I. Debutante Urge That Mansion Vandals Be Tried.” Tom was indeed brought to trial, and exonerated, but his standing as a wild man was now beyond dispute. One of my lasting memories of Tom isn’t even a memory of my own, but of Cinder’s: One night they were hurrying along a Cambridge street to get to a party when they reached a corner where a car was stopped at a light. Tom opened the door of the car and slipped into the backseat. He pulled Cinder in after him and gave the startled driver directions to where he wanted to go. He liked to make the memorable, bravura gesture.
And his clothes—oh lordy, his clothes. No one dressed with more style, more panache. Back then the uniform was coat and tie, and [End Page 110] my first college purchase, paid for with earnings from a summer in the oil fields, was a suit of worsted cheviot, light olive in color, with a soft luster and faint herringbone pattern. I thought I looked pretty swell in it until I stood beside Tom. His taste ran to shirts with bold stripes and white collars, houndstooth jackets with subtle overplaids and staghorn buttons, tassel loafers buffed to a soft sheen. His clothes had to cost a fortune, but he once had worked at a fancy men...