Heydey, W.M. Spackman

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The Complete Fiction of W.M. Spackman (containing Heydey), W.M. Spackman, Dalkey Archive, 1997, ISBN 1-56478-137-2, $16.95, pp. 1-91.

I first heard about this author from Rich Horton. Now that I think of it, I’ve only heard about this author from Rich, but the buildup that Rich gave him forced me to pick up the Dalkey Archive complete collection of his works. I’m not very familiar with the Dalkey Archive, but from what I can tell, they are a non-profit or collective determined to keep worthy literature in print in inexpensive editions, mostly trade paperback (the name of the press is from a novel by Flann O’Brien). Spackman is a Harvard man who graduated from college just before the Depression, wrote and published his first novel at the age of 45, then had to wait over twenty years before his second was accepted. That novel, An Armful of Warm Girl (what a wonderful title!), received enough critical acclaim that he published three more novels in the succeeding years.

Heydey is that first novel, published in 1953, printed here in a revised form that the author had not completed before his death. The setting is New York City during the Depression and the characters are Harvard grads trying to live their dreams in a world that has all but collapsed. They take solace in alcohol and sex in an endless string of late night parties and rendezvous (is that the plural of rendezvous?). Imagine a Thorne Smith novel with no supernatural elements and a Harvard education.

I loved it, finishing it in two reading sessions. The style is the sort of thing I try to achieve in my own fiction–a balance between exposition and dialogue that alternates between insight and wit. The structure is oblique, to be nice, but revealing once we achieve the finale. At times, you wonder what does it all mean, but then, that may be the point.

There are some similarities between Spackman and Anthony Powell (another favorite of Rich’s), including the focus on gossip and the “dance” of a group of people who step through life, changing partners or standing by the wall spilling punch. Powell, though, is so understated that his dance seems hidden, lost in the intricacies of its creation; Spackman, while not explicit, is like the best 1940s screwball comedy, teasing the censor with a playfulness that is sans malice.

It seems fairly obvious to me that Heydey is autobiographical (again, like Anthony Powell’s dance). As the advice goes, Spackman started writing by writing what he knew. I look forward to reading the rest of the novels in this collection to see if they contain the same strange combination of joi de vivre and world-weariness.

[Finished April 1999]

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