The Birth of Death and Other Comedies
The Novels of Russell H. Greenan
Collection Scholarly Series
Russell H. Greenan's It Happened in Boston? is one of the most radical narratives to appear in the late 1960s ("this is a book that encompasses everything" as David L. Ulin noted in Bookforum). Yet due in large part to the difficulty of classifying Greenan's fiction, many readers are unaware of his other novels. In The Birth of Death and Other Comedies: The Novels of Russell H. Greenan, Tom Whalen, drawing widely from the American literary tradition, locates Greenan's lineage in the work of Hawthorne and Poe "where allegory and dream mingle with and illuminate realism," as well as in the fiction of Twain, West, Hammett, Cain, and Thompson. Examining Greenan’s characteristic themes and strategies, Whalen provides perceptive readings of the dark comedies of this criminally neglected American master, and in a coda reflects on Greenan’s career and the reception of his work.
Title The Birth of Death and Other Comedies
Subtitle The Novels of Russell H. Greenan
Author Tom Whalen
Collection Scholarly Series
Title First Published 04 June 2011
Nb of pages 200 p.
GTIN13 (EAN13) 9781564786401
Publication Date 01 June 2011
Nb of pages 200
Dimensions 5.5 x 8 in.
List Price $23.95
"What an Edifice of Artifice!": It Happened in Boston? (1968)
"And he was a passionate, and wild and moody man, who became lost in reveries . . ."—“The Oval Portrait,” Edgar Allan Poe
“The writer, for all his extravagances, did not sound crazy.” (203)
There's a story behind the title that Greenan tells in his afterword to Modern Library's 20th Century Rediscovery edition of It Happened in Boston? (1968). “When I submitted the manuscript I called it Alfred Omega. My editor, Lee Wright . . . felt the word 'Boston’ should be part of the title and suggested borrowing the sentence 'Who would believe such things could happen in Boston?’ from the text. But Bennett Cerf considered that too long, so we settled on It Happened in Boston?” And now Greenan proceeds to whittle the title of his first novel down even further. His brother, a compositor, suggested it should be shortened to In Boston? while correspondents refer to it as Boston? and Greenan finally offers that the title might “be reduced to just the question mark, so that one might e-mail a friend and ask, ‘Have you ever read ??’” (282), a reduction as spare as one by Beckett and sufficient to embody the interpretive, dialectical nature of the experience of reading a novel of an artist’s quest for God, not obsequiously to greet Him but to dethrone and kill Him, and where the narrator’s sanity and reality itself are in question.
He is mad, isn’t he? The psychopath, according to William James, possesses a “love of metaphysics and mysticism which carry one’s interests beyond the surface of the sensible world” (quoted in Kazin 165). What other explanation can there be for the novel’s opening?
During the decades that followed the 1969 publication of my first novel, It Happened in Boston?, I twice heard that it was being taught at a school in New Orleans by someone who held the tale in high regard. However, it was not until many years later that I became acquainted with the book's paladin, Tom Whalen, a man who possesses an immense knowledge of the world's imaginative works.
I'm delighted Mr. Whalen has done this critical survey of my novels. No one understands them better.
— Russell H. Greenan
Russell H. Greenan is the chronicler of people living at the edge: the edge of civilization, the edge of madness, the bitter, crumbling edges of their own lives. Tom Whalen's study of Greenan is, like the novels it so lovingly details, masterful, uncommon, and intensely personal.
— James Sallis
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