May 26th, 2007

  • pgdf

Sixties Novels, Part 19

THE BEASTS, Leslie Garrett, Scribner's, 1966

One of the great themes of the Sixties that we haven't discussed much yet (see the entry on Alfred Chester for preliminary thoughts) is that of the creative person who succumbs to the zeitgeist and goes off the rails into a sump of hedonism, madness, self-indulgence and dissipation of his talents. We seem to have such a case here.

Thanks to some reminiscenses by a friend of LG's, a writer named Don Williams

we learn that Leslie Garrett's own life-anecdotes often concerned a "blighted Philadelphia childhood with a cruel and dissolute mother, and a father who was an amiable genius, if an outlaw. They refer to gangsters and sportsmen his daddy brought home for wild parties. A kindly librarian who changed his life. Paper fragments hint at tales from service days in the Navy, of wanderings from New Orleans to San Francisco to New York to Paris in search of some community he could claim. Stories of his doomed marriage to a simple Christian sweetheart from Florida, who could never appreciate his thirst to write. Of the marriage to a Vegas showgirl, years later, who, approaching from the opposite end of the spiritual spectrum, likewise couldn't figure him out. Of his brother, a boxer, who saved him following an overdose of pills and an attempted self-hanging.... Leslie was a haunted man who couldnt stop telling stories."

Friends early on with Cormac McCarthy at the start of their dual careers, Garrett debuted with similar promise, winning a Maxwell Perkins award for THE BEASTS, his first book. But his demons kept him from producing another until IN THE COUNTRY OF DESIRE in 1992, a year before his death--and it was a commercial flop.

THE BEASTS bears the publisher's comparisons to LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, V., and THE NIGHT CLERK. It details "the bizarre half-life of the drifters and dropouts of San Francisco, dominated by the giant Negro they called the Prophet. Farley Grimm was drawn into it by the strange, seemingly child-like Lenore...[ellipsis sic] and his descent into a world of nightmare orgies and perverse delights is told with vividness, compassion--and a wild vein of black humor."

Hmmm, why am I thinking Delany's TIDES OF LUST....?

And finally, the book also sports an endorsement from a Sixties name we've seen before: critic Seymour Krim.