Medium 9780253001818

Confessions of a Guilty Freelancer

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William O’Rourke’s singular view of American life over the past 40 years shines forth in these short essays on subjects personal, political, and literary, which reveal a man of keen intellect and wide-ranging interests. They embrace everything from the state of the nation after 9/11 to the author’s encounter with rap, from the masterminds of political makeovers to the rich variety of contemporary American writing. His reviews illuminate both the books themselves and the times in which we live, and his personal reflections engage even the most fearful events with a special humor and gentle pathos. Readers will find this richly rewarding volume difficult to put down.

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Part 1 The Personal

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I was home in South Bend, Indiana, in my attic office, working on a novel involving coal miners, set against the backdrop of the 1984–85 National Union of Miners strike in England. The phone rang and it was Eric Sandeen, the oldest child of my friends, Eileen and Ernie Sandeen. Eric, a professor of American Studies at the University of Wyoming, was in town to go to the Notre Dame-University of Southern California football game. His father was an emeritus professor of English at the university and Eric was using his tickets. And he had an extra one for the game that was to start in about an hour, which he offered to me. I had donated my tickets to some good cause. It was October 26th, 1991, and the fall weather was only fair: but the gray, overcast sky wasn’t supposed to turn into rain.

My day’s work writing was about over, in any case: the cold, wet atmosphere of the novel’s English pit towns had seeped into me and the idea of getting outside was appealing. My novel, for a number of reasons, had been hard going. I decided to abandon it and attend the game.

 

Part 2 The Personal and the Political

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In the mid-1980s, I was sitting in the living room of the first house I ever owned, watching the television show, This Old House, on PBS. Bob Vila was doing a rehab project on Cape Cod. As he would, on occasion, he took a side trip to view other real estate (Vila more often went to factories to see how house products, windows, etc., were made). He went to a home in Hyannis, on the Cape, with a view of the bay. In front of it was one of the last beach-front properties for sale in the town.

Vila pulled up behind the house, because there was no garage, and not much of a front “yard,” since the house was built on what was still dune, but a fairly beat-down one, where the land was becoming solid earth, not shifting sand.

There was bright, blinding light all around, the sun glancing off the water of Cape Cod bay and my black and white TV seemed luminous, dream-like, as Vila approached the home’s back door, which, more or less, functioned as a front door.

 

Part 3 The Personal and the Political and the Literary

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In November, 1993, I published a review of three books, all related to Raymond Carver, in my local hometown paper, the South Bend Tribune. In another context, I once claimed that reviews were eulogies for books no one reads, but that remark, like most, is never entirely true. In Carver’s case, there will be, has been, an audience for Short Cuts; but for the majority of books, you can count on only one attentive reader – of the review, at least: the author. Obviously, I would not hear from Carver; but I did hear from his widow, Tess Gallagher, who took exception to something I wrote, an exception that is important enough to be discussed more fully in connection with the work of Raymond Carver: the subject of money. Since the book reviews in the South Bend Tribune are not indexed anywhere, our daily town paper being the proverbial fish wrap, it is not likely any present reader has read what I had to say. Below, one will find the original review I wrote, shorn of the local paper’s editing and cuts.

 

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