THE DECLINE AND FALL OF AMERICA, Robert DeMaria, Saturday Review Press, 1973
[cover by Seymour Chwast: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seymour_Chwast]
One of the pleasures of doing this series of posts is the detective work: tracking down forgotten authors, learning new things about literature, etc. And I also happen to have a weird little instance of synchronicity to report this time around.
But one of the things learned in such a pursuit--or re-learned, for it's not precisely a new observation--is generally a discouraging lesson for a working author. It's how the shape of a career can implode, how authors can go from a relatively secure position--nice advances, prestigious publishers--to out-of-print obscurity.
Such is the case of Robert DeMaria.
First off, our candidate this time is not this Robert DeMaria:
The academic credentials don't jibe. Also, note the "Jr." Maybe this is our guy's son, following in his Dad's footsteps. If so, more power to him.
Neither is our quarry the diet doctor of the same name:
No, this is our man, whose works are listed here:
Now, do you note a certain downward trend in the status of the publishers of these works over the years? Big gaps in the C.V.? Also, the fact that they are all supposedly available in reprint editions from Vineyard Press, whose website is dead? It's a sad familiar story, told countless times since writing fiction became a semi-viable career path.
We know one more thing about Robert DeMaria, and that's where coincidence rears its charming head. Literally just last night, I picked up a book I hadn't touched in months: Volume Two of the selected letters of Charles Bukowski. And a few pages in, I found a letter from CB to DeMaria! DeMaria was the editor of a literary zine named MEDITERRANEAN REVIEW, and had just bounced one of CB's stories in 1970. Imagine that....
As for THE DECLINE AND FALL OF AMERICA itself, it looks to be an agreeable little farce. From the dj:
"Centenarian Nelson Pryce is the super-rich patriarch of an enormous family of close to one hundred members. He has also sired an illegitimate branch of Snopes-like characters (named Canabis [sic]) who live in incest and poverty in the woods of upstate New York.... [ellipsis mine]
"Nelson's progeny, an interesting cross section of American society, has its share of colorful characters--an unscrupulous television newscaster, an innocent nymphomaniac, a morbid college professor, a brilliant pornographer, a vacuous United States Senator, and a fifty-year-old virgin who runs a high-class bordello...."
All these folks turn on Nelson for his money. End story.
One last thing about this book: its publisher. I hear the baffled exclamations now: "Saturday Review Press? Who they?" Yes, no one under forty will recognize that name. Yet once they were a power in the land:
How have the mighty fallen....