subbook-blog427This week I did something I rarely do.  After reading about THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRING in the NYT Book Review, I downloaded it immediately and started reading.  I usually sit back for a bit and think about the book, and how much I’m dying to read it vs. the books already in my too-tall stack.  So an impulse purchase for sure.

I’m not so much fascinated by writers and their drinking, but I’m forever curious about my favorite writers — William Styron, William Faulkner, John Cheever, Raymond Carver — and the lives they led while writing, and how those lives informed their work.  There is, of course, the theory that their personal lives do not matter one bit, that only the work matters, and I certainly subscribe to this.  The work stands alone; it’s about the work.  But my curiosity about the writer remains.  It’s rumored, for instance, that Styron rarely edited his work, that he wrote one sentence at a time, rolling it over and over in his head, and that only once the sentence was perfected would he write it down on his yellow legal pad.  What effect, if any, did his drinking have on his work, and also on the way he worked?  It’s said that John Berryman felt inspiration was like a death threat, that writing made him fall apart.  He used drinking as a stabilizer, to reduce what he called “the fatal intensity.”  Without alcohol, is it possible that Berryman would not have been able to write at all?

I was at a writing conference recently when a young man asked a famous writer if he drank, and what he thought of writers being drinkers or addicts.  Famous Writer laughed and said, (I paraphrase), Writing well means walking the line of wild creativity and staunch discipline.  If I drink, my writing makes no sense, not matter how easy it seems in the drinking-moment.  And how does anyone write, or even think, with a hangover?  

Laing’s book opens with a scene of Cheever and Carver during their short tenure at Iowa, driving to a liquor store in the middle of winter, and Laing does a fantastic job of bringing these men to life.  “Here’s a thing.  Iowa City, 1973.  Two men in a car, a Ford Falcon convertible that’s seen better days.  It’s winter, the kind of cold that hurts bones and lungs, that reddens knuckles, makes noses run.  If you could, by some devoted act of seeing, crane in through the window as they rattle by, you’d see the older man, the one in the passenger seat, has forgotten to put on his socks.  He’s wearing penny loafers on bare feet, oblivious to the cold, like a prep school boy on a summer jaunt.”

Laing’s research is spurred by this thesis:  “I wanted to know … what effect this stew of spirits has had upon the body of literature itself.”

Yes.  The effects on the body of literature.  I can’t wait to read on, to see what she discovers.

18 thoughts on “Echo

  1. jpon

    That sounds really interesting, Teri. I’ll have to pick up a copy. Especially because I wonder sometimes at the connection between writing and drinking. So many writers have done it. I admit, in my own writing world, there are nights when I’m finally done with work and home and dog and spouse, but there are so many issues still swimming in my head I can’t get started until I have a glass of wine so I can more smoothly switch gears. In essence alcohol allows me to stop caring so much about the real world and put it aside. But we’re talking 1-2 drinks, not a trip through the deep freeze to a liquor store. Does it affect my prose? I’ve compared text written while stone cold sober to that when I’ve had a glass or two. Sometimes one is better. Sometimes the other. There’s a lot more factors than just the alcohol I guess. Maybe the book will help me figure it out.

    1. Teri Post author

      I hear you. Sometimes that glass of wine is like a transition period. But if I have more than one, it usually means I’m making dinner or talking with friends or my husband and my night has already transitioned into something other than writing. Or even reading.

      I’m only about 50 pages (that’s 50 ePages, whatever that means) but it’s pretty interesting so far. The author, of course, has her own family issues with alcohol, so that’s part of the trigger for her research. The book is part memoir, part investigation into these famous writers, part travelogue as she retraces their steps. Interesting.

      1. Teri Post author

        “It’s not quite 9:00 a.m. They pull into the parking lot of the state liquor store…. They drive away, passing the bottle [of Scotch] back and forth. Within a few hours they’ll be back at the University of Iowa, swaying eloquently in front of their respective classes.”

        That’s not your normal liquor store run. If there is such a thing.

  2. Catherine

    I’ve read lots and lots about this book, so look forward to reading your review. I like to write sober, cold morning, not too much light, rubbing Corsican pebbles.. Red wine in the evening, writer’s delight.

    1. Teri Post author

      I hear you, Cat. I’m a morning or middle-of-the-night writer, at my best. There’s something about the surrounding dark, and the silence, and the nowhere else to be but right there. (mentally and physically)

      Ahhh, I miss red wine. It still triggers hot flashes (TMI?), so it’s sissy white wine for me. 🙂

  3. independentclause

    My policy is write, then drink. Every once in a while, write a little bit with one drink. Good for inspiration periodically, bad for precision and revision. Don’t drink so much that you can’t write/work/get out of bed the next day. I definitely want to read this book, though.

    1. Teri Post author

      I love the Didion/Dunne system. Write all day, stop at 4:00 for a cocktail, then go back for an hour or so to re-read what was written and edit a little.

  4. Josey

    “…he wrote one sentence at a time, rolling it over and over in his head, and that only once the sentence was perfected would he write it down on his yellow legal pad…”

    that writing process would force me to drink.

  5. Averil Dean

    Oh, I’ve got to read this one. I’ve wondered the same thing about other writers, whether that liquidy prose comes naturally or from an outside source of lubrication. Either way is fascinating.

Comments are closed.