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

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
Innocence Reclaimed

WHEN LESLIE moved to Buffalo, he soon realized that he had made, at best, a partial return to the East. Buffalo was a former frontier town, still a couple hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. But, like Newark, it was also an industrial, working-class city. His grandfather Rosenstrauch had lived there in 1904 (sixty years before Leslie's own arrival), and his mother had briefly attended the public schools, where German was taught as a second language. (At home, she had given names to the rats who shared their flat in one of the poorer sections of town.) Leslie also discovered that his father's brother lived in Buffalo and ran a cigar stand in the Erie Bank. (This branch of the family had become so completely assimilated that they did not even know they were Jews.) Leslie even had a cousin who was named Leslie Fiedler.

The WASP aristocracy, which had run Buffalo in the nineteenth century, had gradually lost numbers and power. By the time Leslie arrived, many of them had moved out to the suburbs, leaving control of the city to the Italians and the Poles and ownership of Buffalo's elegant old houses to new arrivals— managers of electric power plants, cancer researchers at Roswell Clinic, and— occasionally—college professors. Needing to shelter a family of six children, Leslie bought a large three-story house at 154 Morris Avenue, in a pleasant residential neighborhood just off Main Street. It had been built in 1904, the year Leon Rosenstrauch lived in Buffalo.

If Newark could boast of Stephen Crane and Philip Roth, Buffalo seemed devoid of a literary tradition. Scott Fitzgerald had lived there briefly as an infant when his father worked for Proctor and Gamble, but the city has no presence in his work. (At the end of Tender Is the Night, Dick Diver retreats to a series of ever smaller towns in upstate New York.) Of slightly greater significance is the fact that, in 1870, Sam Clemens spent the first year of his married life in Buffalo, where he owned part of the Buffalo Express. When he and his new wife, Olivia Langdon, arrived in Buffalo for their honeymoon,

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