Author Harry Barba wrote this review before he passed away. It's a draft and unfinished, but I thought it was worthy of posting because of who he was. You can read more about him here, here, here and here.
Barba-cues and Barba-isms
Book reviewed: A Daring Young Man, A Biography of William Saroyan
by John Leggett; Alfred J. Knopf, 465 pp, $30
Published in the early spring of 2003, Leggett’s Saroyan is still deserving of a review more than a year later by way of the painstaking attention that has been given to searching ______ half the surface of the globe (editors, publishers, relatives and friends, libraries and noted bibliographies and whoever else and wherever else and whatever else once had to do or now deals with the entertainer and writer that William Saroyan and a handful of editors managed to make available to millions of readers for a brief shooting star’s flight in America’s Great Depression years, a few years before and a few after in a life that spanned over 20 years (from Fresno, California to most of the world and then back to Fresno where, on his death bed (date?), the news media reported him as musing aloud to his housekeeper (none of his two children nor their mother, his twice married and twice divorced wife, nor any other remaining relatives), “I knew everyone had to die someday, but I thought surely an exception would be made in my case.” To which, more than twenty years later, John Leggett and this reviewer say, “It has, Saroyan—through your works.” For if nothing else, not a new “rage” of multiple million readers, “as Leggett puts it in the opening sentences of his oeuvre when Saroyan was producing short stories, novels, plays and autobiographies “by the bucketful***”—but a confirmation of his much deserved place in the “social” and entertainment literary histories of America’s Depression years should be the result for America’s enfant méchant whom Random House Founder and Publisher Bennett Cerf called “The Boy Wonder of Fresno” and acquiesced gladly in Saroyan’s own self designation, “The World’s Greatest Writer.”
Leggett’s here-are-the-facts-about-the-wild-man-of-Fresno-who-decided-and-did-become-a-world-renowed-fiction-writer-and-playwright-and-deserves-to-stand-shoulder-to-shoulder-with-Balzac-Mark Twain-and-Ernest Hemingway-in-the-Pantheon-of-America’s-immortals (forget for a moment that other Bill, William Shakespeare, who is in a league of his own) and here is why I think so” (so he might have said and then proceeded to give us a smouldering bonfire (little heat but plenty of—‘smoke’ [some might think] –‘smoke signals,’ others) of a raking up of the scattered and sodden leaves of yesteryear’s wind thrashing weeping willow tree with such care that a viewer cannot but be impressed by its size and nature—a monument of some kind for sure but its fire fitfully lit.
For, if nothing else, A Daring Young Man finally manages to remind us by indirection of what and how Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Brain Trust of Harry Hopkins, Henry Wallace, “Ma” Perkins, Claude Pepper and that lady who was not only America’s first lady but also the first lady of the world, Eleanor Roosevelt managed to lead us out of the greatest economic and social crisis America has ever learned while perennial “yes-sayers,” refusing to say “enough” to the threat to America’s vital sprits gave an obligato of song, dance, social plays, comedies and tragedies and boundless art and entertainment [Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Porter, Ziegfield, Clifford Odets and Eugene O’Neil, Damon Runyan and the Fresno nightingale, William Saroyan.)
In less than fifteen years in a life that spanned the biblical four score and ten and more, Saroyan wrote the following: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories (his most significant one collection of “social” fiction together with a great grab bag of plays, one to suit any and almost every mood--Love, Here is my Heart, my Heart’s in the Highlands, Love’s Old Sweet Song, Sweeney in the Trees, Hello, out there, and one more to mention as a kicker, the Drama Circle and Pulitzer Prize awarded and perennial stage presentation, The Time of Your Life [which he insisted was no better than any one of his body of works]). Along with these, Leggett’s impressively detailed work presents all of the front and back of books equipment that the reader can count on in a work of scholarly biography.
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.