Tuesday, December 14, 2010


It’s refreshing to know there are still people who smoke and drink too much and look with a jaundiced eye on therapy. Many of those who exhibit these behavioral traits—which include some degree of philandering—are inhabitants of France. However, there are varying regions of the United States which undoubtedly fit the bill when it comes to at least one, if not all, of these tendencies. There is no doubt that it is healthier to refrain from smoking and drinking too much, and that their combination often fuels the kind of extemporaneous promiscuity that leads to unprotected sex. However, living healthily can become a disease in and of itself, with the demands for perfection creating a level of stress that can lead to heart failure, bipolar disorders and even psychiatric conditions characterized by a break with reality. For years, American writers like John Updike and John Cheever charted the existences of hard drinking, smoking and cheating characters whose duplicitous and destructive existences created beautiful stories and, for the writers, reputations that outlived the eras they wrote about. Updike’s autobiographical treatment of the dissolution of his marriage in the story collection Too Far to Go is so perfect that it almost seems like a painter’s setup. He luxuriates in the breakup of the failed relationship, which he describes so incisively that it begins to have the quality of a nature morte, with Updike and his disgruntled wife like the apples that Cezanne set out to express. And to what extent was John O’Hara tempting his own fate in order to create the model of Julian English in Appointment in Samara? Is it really correct to call Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road an autobiographical novel, when many of the incidents could be looked at as being enacted merely for the sake of the novel he had yet to write? Who is going to live out a conflict-free life, devoid of transgressions, to write a novel about a totally healthy, well-adjusted existence, in which the main characters watch television each night as they eat dinner, and then die peacefully in their sleep?

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