Portrait of an artist, as an old man

Joseph Heller

Book - 2000

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1 copy ordered
Subjects
Published
New York : Simon & Schuster 2000.
Language
English
Physical Description
233 p. ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780743202015
0743202007
Main Author
Joseph Heller (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

In his last novel, completed just before his death in 1999, Heller introduces a septuagenarian hero, Eugene Pota, who has had great success as a novelist and a lady's man and who isn't exactly enjoying his golden years. While his affectionate wife, Polly, attends to all things domestic with undiminished zest, he finds that he can't write and that his appetite for sex has waned. Abandoned by his muse, all he can come up with are anemic variations on everything from the Iliad and the Bible to works by Kafka, Faulkner, and Nabokov, although he is proud of one possible title, "A Sexual Biography of My Wife," which elicits laughter from friends, guarded interest from his editor, and dismay from his wife. And so this wry little tale unfolds. Heller's alter ego starts various novels with glee, only to put them aside, discouraged and depressed. There's "God's Wife," which reads like a doomed comedy routine; a tale narrated by an indignant Hera, who decides to take literary revenge on her husband, Zeus, for all his infidelities; and, finally, inspired by the theme he has chosen for an invitational lecture, "The Literature of Despair," Pota fashions a melancholy story about Tom Sawyer's quest for guidance from writers such as Poe, Melville, London, and Dickinson and about his discovery that most writers die forgotten and miserable. The writing life, Heller observes, is rife with "feelings of defeat, disappointment, frustration," yet his impish pleasure in satirizing himself and literary ambition reveals not sorrow and dissatisfaction but delight in the joys of both writing and life. ((Reviewed May 1, 2000))Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This slim posthumous novel, playing blithely with the idea of an elderly novelist in search of a subject, is the last thing the author of Catch-22 left us. Although not a profound leave-taking, it is nonetheless a pleasant reminder of the author's great charm and fluency. Eugene Pota, Heller's alter ego here, rifles the back corners of his mind for a new novel that will restore to him some of the luster that shone from his earlier efforts. In the beginning he tries to do something with Tom Sawyer, first with a postmodernist Tom on Wall Street, then as a character determined to run down the secrets of success for an American writer. But Pota discovers, in his wry researches into the lives of Tom's own creator, Jack London, Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, Herman Melville, Henry James and many others, that a combination of prosperity and cheerfulness are profoundly elusive for an author. This segues into a speech Heller himself used to make about the many afflictions, particularly alcoholism, of noted American writers. Pota toys with the idea of a book to be called The Sexual Biography of My Wife, then realizes he doesn't know enough about women's sexuality, and doesn't like to ask his wife, so he calls on some old flames, and begins a few cautious, elderly flirtations. He plays, too, with the idea of the Creation from God's point of view, has some fun with Hera and Zeus, and engages in regular, despondent talks about his lack of progress with his editor (who is unfortunately about to retire). Some of this is familiar, some is simply rambling, but it is all done with a spirit of faintly irritated self-reproach that is endearing. At the very least, this is a frank and at times funny look at how a legendary American novelist coped with the onset of old age. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This slim posthumous novel, playing blithely with the idea of an elderly novelist in search of a subject, is the last thing the author of Catch-22 left us. Although not a profound leave-taking, it is nonetheless a pleasant reminder of the author's great charm and fluency. Eugene Pota, Heller's alter ego here, rifles the back corners of his mind for a new novel that will restore to him some of the luster that shone from his earlier efforts. In the beginning he tries to do something with Tom Sawyer, first with a postmodernist Tom on Wall Street, then as a character determined to run down the secrets of success for an American writer. But Pota discovers, in his wry researches into the lives of Tom's own creator, Jack London, Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, Herman Melville, Henry James and many others, that a combination of prosperity and cheerfulness are profoundly elusive for an author. This segues into a speech Heller himself used to make about the many afflictions, particularly alcoholism, of noted American writers. Pota toys with the idea of a book to be called The Sexual Biography of My Wife, then realizes he doesn't know enough about women's sexuality, and doesn't like to ask his wife, so he calls on some old flames, and begins a few cautious, elderly flirtations. He plays, too, with the idea of the Creation from God's point of view, has some fun with Hera and Zeus, and engages in regular, despondent talks about his lack of progress with his editor (who is unfortunately about to retire). Some of this is familiar, some is simply rambling, but it is all done with a spirit of faintly irritated self-reproach that is endearing. At the very least, this is a frank and at times funny look at how a legendary American novelist coped with the onset of old age. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An aging author tries to end his writer's block by working on an updating of "Tom Sawyer" with a yuppie hero, a White House tale about a president facing impeachment, a reworking of Greek mythology, and other potential novels.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Imagine that the novelist -- his name here is Eugene Pota -- realizes that the days are dwindling and he needs to come up with one more novel. But what should he write? That first novel, the one that launched him, the one that made him into the cultural icon he seems fated to remain, has become a touchstone for his life, and his life since has pretty much been a critical failure. And now, when he is faced with the compulsion to write one more novel, to take a stab at the even bigger one, what should it be? Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man follows the journey that Eugene Pota undertakes as he sifts through the detritus of his life in an effort to settle on a subject for his final work. He talks to everyone, including his wife, his old lovers, and his editor. While everyone has ideas, no one offers any real answers. Written with sections that alternate between Pota's real-life efforts to settle on what novel to write and his many and various false starts writing that novel, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man is a rare and enthralling look into the artist's search for creativity.