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

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
East Toward Home

ON THE DAY THAT Love and Death in the American Novel was supposed to appear in 1960, its publisher (Criterion Books) went bankrupt. Although the book was in print, all the copies were locked in a warehouse. Fortunately, Criterion was bought out by Dell, and the book was belatedly distributed. At well over six hundred pages, the sheer bulk of the volume was intimidating. Over the next few years, that fact (not the outraged reviews) convinced Leslie that a revised edition was needed. He had seemingly thrown everything he knew about the American novel and its European antecedents between the covers of this book. A deeply personal volume (its use of first person scandalized many righteous scholars), it grew out of Leslie's years in Rome and Princeton, when his engagement with American literature seemed inseparably bound up with the crises of his personal life. Looking back on Love and Death with a measure of detachment, he admits that “I am sometimes annoyed at how hard it presses or how pleased it seems with its own insights” (LD, 7).

Although he resisted the temptation to change the language and tone of the book, Leslie began to prune, sacrificing digressive allusions for a more direct line of argument. By removing one or two sentences from paragraph after paragraph, he managed to slim the tome down by well over a hundred pages. In this effort, he was continuing the surgery performed on the first edition by his friend and editor Catherine Carver. (Without the revisions she suggested, the first edition probably would have been eight to nine hundred pages long.) Leslie had first met Katy Carver when she held an editorial position at Partisan Review. She had begun her career thinking herself a writer, only to discover that her greatest talent lay in sharpening and clarifying the prose of others. Throughout her career with various publishers, she continued to do freelance work for Leslie, Saul Bellow, and a few others in the circle of friends she called her “boys.” 1.

____________________
1.
Fiedler, interview with author, Nov. 5, 1998.

-175-

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