Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Too Good to Be True

WHEN LESLIE finally arrived back in the United States in late 1945, he had been gone from home so long that he initially did not recognize Margaret standing in the airport to greet him. He was, of course, a complete stranger to Kurt and Eric. If his great war adventure had enabled him to flee the mundane responsibilities of family life and civilian work, he was now brought back to those obligations. If anything, his military experience seemed like a dream from which he had awakened to quotidian reality. His certificate of discharge simply read: “The individual was employed in a position of special trust and no further information regarding his duties in the Navy can be disclosed. He is under oath of secrecy, and all concerned are requested to refrain from efforts to extract more information from him” (BB, 45).

After Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, and China, Leslie's next stop seemed destined to be Missoula. But before he could return there, the Rockefeller Foundation offered him a year's postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard. Returning to school was equivalent to prolonging his adolescence for yet another year, even if he did have to share his prefabricated housing with a wife and two kids. As a child in Newark, Leslie had viewed Harvard as a kind of WASP utopia, reserved for blue bloods and a few golden ethnics such as Al Eisner. (The closest he had previously come to Harvard was the occasion Al had used the name Leslie Fiedler when appearing in the YCL production of Waiting for Lefty.) Not only was Leslie now a certified member of the Harvard community, he also enjoyed the privileged position of being neither a student nor a professor. The Harvard Leslie remembers seemed to be “inhabited chiefly by veterans like me and their wives pushing baby carriages: an island of irrelevant grass constantly invaded by whooping kids on tricycles, pursued by whooping parents, who, drunk and after dark, took over those tricycles” (BB, 44).

Although Leslie took a wide variety of courses, the center of his life that year was the Harvard Poetry Society. Most of what he wrote and published at that time were poems, and most of the people with whom he associated

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