Imagine you’re chosen from the stack of 800 Iowa Workshop applicants and Frank Conroy calls to say, “I’ll see you in August!” (adding, “I never call anyone.”) Imagine you show up in August and, from the first day, Frank seems to think your book, the one you’ll be working on in his Workshop, is brilliant. Imagine you finish said book and 5 publishing houses bid on it, only to realize you’ve failed.
Failed? Well, yes.
“Writers always look toward the future. In a sense, we have no past, only whatever time we have remaining to write the perfect book to mask our emptiness — or my emptiness, anyway — the book that won’t defeat us, the book we’d like to be remembered by, if we’re remembered at all.” (p. 167)
Tom Grimes’s latest book is not one of those memoirs where you admire the richness of the language so much as the raw truth-telling. The kind of raw that breaks your heart. I won’t say more, as I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but I will say this: after I finished reading MENTOR yesterday afternoon, I went back and read the New York Times Review from August 2010 and thought Dwight Garner’s review — petty, short, and off-the-mark — and was stunned. Did we read the same book, Mr. Garner and me? Forget where Mr. Garner says, “Don’t give this forthright and bewildered book to the would-be writer in your life. It might make him or her climb a tall tree and leap from it.” It made me want to climb up even higher in the tree and work harder. Go out and read it as fast as you can. It’s the most honest, inspirational story about the writing life that I’ve read in a long, long time.