Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967

Article excerpt

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967, by Rachel Cohen. Random House, March 2004. $24.95

Cohen can flat write: there can be no doubt about that. The short chapters that make up this book are jewels of wit and precision. Each chapter stands alone as a small piece on the relationship between two American artists: Howell and Twain, Hart Crane and Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore. The "intertwined" nature of the text stems from the regular overlap of friendships: there are chapters as well on Howell and Henry James, Hart Crane and Katherine Anne Porter, Marianne Moore and Norman Mailer, and so forth. Cohen has the rare and most pleasing gift for choosing quotes. I had to tramp upstairs to find my wife to read her the funny, poignant exchanges between Howell and Twain: she gratified me, as I thought she would, by laughing aloud and then puddling up. Cohen's selection from forty years' worth of correspondence between the two men was perfect.

Each chapter in the book reads as something closer to fiction than to essay, what she calls "imaginative nonfiction," and this feature of the book leads to my one caveat. …

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