Millhauser, Steven. Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943 – 1954 By Jeffrey Cartwright. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972.
Reason read: September is National Child Month…or something like that.
Confessional: this totally reminded me of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany because Edwin reminded me of Owen.
Jeffrey Cartwright is six months older than Edwin Mullhouse so by default they have known each other pretty much all their lives. Jeffrey, with his perfect memory, has taken it upon himself to become Edwin’s biographer. His story is in three sections: the Early Years, the Middle Years, and the Late Years (when Edwin dies at age eleven). Jeffrey carefully documents everything from baby talk (“salivary sonatas” p 58) to grade school crushes. One of the disappointments of the story is the tedious repetition. It’s as if Millhauser wants to express the idea that to speak like a child is to be incredibly repetitious. Here is an example, “Before Karen was born, the grandmothers slept in the empty bed in the extra room, but after Karen was born the empty bed was moved into Edwin’s room and the grandmothers slept there. The empty bed was never moved back, and before Karen had a bed of her own, the grandmothers slept in Karen’s bed and Karen slept in the empty bed in Edwin’s room” (p 45). These two sentences exhaust me. In addition, Steven Millhauser writes with a great deal of detail. It is not enough to say a leg was dangling. It is important for you to know it was the right leg that was dangling and how it was dangling.
And it wasn’t just the repetition that got to me. The only hook to the plot seemed to be the knowledge that Edwin dies at the end of it. Eleven years old is too young to die so you keep reading to find out how he dies at such a young age.
Quotes to quote, “The fatal flaw of all biography, according to its enemies, is its helpless conformity to the laws of fiction” (p 100) and “A book is an intolerable pressure on the inside of the skull, demanding release” (p 257).
Book trivia: I wouldn’t necessarily call this book illustrated, but there is a cute drawing on page 21.
Author fact: Edwin Mullhouse (the character) and Steven Millhauser (the author) were both born in August 1973.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads Decade by Decade: 1970s” (p 177).