Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man: A Novel

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9780743202015: Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man: A Novel

Imagine that the novelist -- his name here is Eugene Pota -- realizes that the days are dwindling and he needs to come up with one more novel. But what should he write? That first novel, the one that launched him, the one that made him into the cultural icon he seems fated to remain, has become a touchstone for his life, and his life since has pretty much been a critical failure. And now, when he is faced with the compulsion to write one more novel, to take a stab at the even bigger one, what should it be?
Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man follows the journey that Eugene Pota undertakes as he sifts through the detritus of his life in an effort to settle on a subject for his final work. He talks to everyone, including his wife, his old lovers, and his editor. While everyone has ideas, no one offers any real answers. Written with sections that alternate between Pota's real-life efforts to settle on what novel to write and his many and various false starts writing that novel, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man is a rare and enthralling look into the artist's search for creativity.

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Review:

"This author was determined," says the apparently autobiographical narrator of Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. "He often appropriated as his own personal infirmity the concluding words of the unnameable voice in Samuel Beckett's The Unnameable, 'I must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.'" And on his last day on Earth, Joseph Heller was still polishing this, his last and strangest novel. It is essentially an essay about a writer who's exactly like him--old and stuck for an idea for his next book. Seeking inspiration, he chats with his wife, his editors, and his friends, and floats one high-concept scheme after another.

How about a novel about the gangsters who ran Coney Island, the enchanted land of his childhood? Nah, too much plot to concoct. Perhaps he could update a classic: Tom Sawyer as a Harvard MBA, or Kafka's The Metamorphosis transposed to Manhattan. When these don't pan out, Heller takes a stab at mythology, done in the manner of his old pal Mel Brooks. Here Zeus's wife complains about his flagging ardor:

I try to put myself in Leda's place. It could be kind of thrilling, I guess, being overpowered by a huge male swan, especially after realizing it was Zeus.... I'd like to see him take the trouble to surprise me like that, even once. But that doesn't happen. He won't waste tricks like that on me. He never does, he knows he doesn't have to. When he comes to me it's never with anything new, it's always just the same, always just the same old god.
Increasingly desperate, the author tries out titles on his friends, and A Sexual Biography of My Wife stirs some interest. Still, his tentative fictions don't grab you the way the novel's sad, searing reminiscences do. When Heller--I mean, the narrator--has a tearful reunion with his adulterous old flame (who's now stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease), or asks another female acquaintance whether she regrets turning down his long-ago offer of romance, we get a privileged glimpse into the private mind of a very public author. "I want to cap my career with a masterpiece of some kind," the narrator tells his editor. This poignantly discursive book is not a masterpiece, but Joseph Heller did go on trying to the end. --Tim Appelo

About the Author:

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time, and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in 1999.

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Heller, Joseph
Verlag: Simon & Schuster (2001)
ISBN 10: 0743202015 ISBN 13: 9780743202015
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Robinson Street Books, IOBA
(Binghamton, NY, USA)
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Buchbeschreibung Simon & Schuster, 2001. Paperback. Buchzustand: Very Good. 0743202015 Very good. Minor crease. Quality, Value, Experience. Media Shipped in New Boxes. Artikel-Nr. BING89513283

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