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Casey Clabough. George Garrett. A Critical Biography.

Casey Clabough. George Garrett. A Critical Biography. Texas Review Press, 2013. 240 pp. Paper: $22.95.

George Garrett was a Southern writer, a historical novelist, but also, importantly, an experimentalist, and Casey Clabough's elegantly written biography pays particular attention to this last element. Clabough points out that Garrett's John Towne academic satires "suggest the approach ... of novelists such as B. S. Johnson." Though on one level consummately successful in the literary world (a tenured teaching position at University of Virginia, Poet Laureate of that state, friend and mentor to writers such as James Dickey, R. H. W. Dillard, and Madison Smartt Bell), Garrett was also a born outsider who was skeptical of the New York publishing establishment. His annual essays for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, accompanied by those of David Slavitt, adamantly resisted the consensus. Just as The Sorrows of Fat City broke down barriers between literature and criticism, so did Double Vision engage in a metaficitve interrogation of Garrett's complicated friendship with Peter Taylor. Clabough, as the subtitle indicates, writes a critical biography, concentrating on work as well as life, and introduces the reader to these little-known later works while also honoring the works that gave Garrett fame. There are The Finished Man, his first novel, inspired by the politics of Garrett's native Florida, and the Elizabethan trilogy, Death of the Fox, The Succession, and Entered from the Sun, which gives us the past less as adventure or research subject than tone-poem. Garrett's language originated in the Elizabethan era, so to write these books was a solicitation of language itself. Clabough ingeniously portrays how this "unpostured and unorthodox" writer was also the most charming of men, encouraging even to unknowns who dropped their manuscripts into his mailbox. Garrett was brave and courteous as a person, but he was fearless and inventive as a writer. Clabough's biography excels in giving us both these dimensions. [Nicholas Birns]
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Author:Birns, Nicholas
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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