27 September 2012

David Herrle's First Thoughts on A Poet from Hollywood

Dear Cantara,

Sorry for the delay in reply and the following off-the-cuff message. As I told you, I read A Poet from Hollywood in one sitting. I have great difficulty reading from a computer screen for long periods, but the book was so riveting the chore became a pleasure. The closest comparison I can make is how I feel when I'm reading an engrossing true-crime investigation (such as the ones by Ann Rule): snuggled up in the writer's personality and thrilled that fiction can be much more mundane than reality.

What's remarkable is that you were able to direct your recollections and the emotional/intellectual fallout into a coherent and clever narrative, even a miniature case study of a man who seems to be trying to live up to the real of perceived higher level of his family (“My family's behind me 100 percent”) but constantly fails to recognze his own artistic worth and the need for its proper nourishment, not to mention his independence. You: “As for the rest of Team Gyllenhaal, it didn't actually come to an end when it cut loose its weakest member.” Hell, that was painful to read.

If what you wrote can be trusted (though all our eyeglasses are colored and smudged, I think it can be for the most part), the interest and care that you and Michael offered Stephen could have been a ticket to a much cooler trip for him if he'd given it the chance. For one, Michael sounds like an astute, insightful and witty chap. I looked forward to his appearances and believed in his professionalism (particularly in the aftermath of the controversial publication of Stephen's story in Cantaraville). And you bring a fiery, deeply felt creativity to your profession. That's a good combination. Was your infatuation problematic when mixed with Stephen's behavior and hangups? Probably, though I must admit that the odd (ultimately good-hearted and unconsummated) menage a trois was fascinating, if not a little tittilating, since I kept wondering if there'd soon be a torrid passage, an impulsive crossing of the line—though in my heart I felt that your relationship with Michael is as solid as Gibraltar. The emotional and affectionate tension (particularly between you and Naomi—“And what about Naomi?”), however, works as a sort of framework for the whole story, so you were wise to use one of Stephen's outbursts as an introductory epigraph: “Don't touch me, you're my publisher!” And, soon after, knocking the reader upside the head with “I began to fall in love with Stephen Gyllenhaal through the poems he had written to his wife.” Also, the spiel on the genesis of the intro and the foreword is ominous. It prepares the reader to recognize the countless quirks in Stephen's tenuous support system. It's almost like you can subtitle the book Poet, Interrupted.

The book is about your disillusionment with the man as it's about the dramatic book deal. You: “Did I feel betrayed? You bet I did.” By the time I got to the end of the book, I viewed that brief video of Stephen passively-aggressively telling you to turn the camera off differently (and more accurately) than I did back when you first shared it online.

Since I'm racing the clock hands and don't want to suffocate you with any more parenthetical asides (which is what I tend to litter emails with—see?), I'll just show you some of the favorite passages/lines I jotted down in chronological order in the book:

“Well, how does he sound to you?”
“He sounds like a teenager,” he answered, frowning.

His breath smelling like fettucini alfredo when you leaned over to kiss him goodbye.

“He's a big kid, just a big kid,” I remarked to Michael later when Stephen went to pay the bill.
“And you're his mother,” said. Michael.
“No I'm not,” I protested

“You see what I was doing.”
I laughed.”You were directing the director!”
“I was doing that for your benefit,” said Michael.
“Oh baby,” I told him playfully, “I am so gonna sleep with you tonight.”

Jake not liking the cover photo of his father's book! WTF?

“As I watched him leave, all my efforts, all my emotions of the past year started to overwhelm me. There hadn't been a day in all that time when Stephen wasn't in my thoughts and plans; there hardly had been a moment when I felt that Stephen's hopes and dreams didn't coincide with mine.”

The debacle with the books for Martha's Vineyard.

The weird reading at the Zinc Bar.

“We are all corrupt.”
“Stephen, I'm not corrupt, and neither is Michael.”

Michael footing the bill at dinner at Virage + “He's a big kid, he's just a big kid,” I remarked to Michael later when Stephen went to pay the bill (at The Flame).

The ominous typo in the program: “Stephen Gyllenhaal was the second husband of Naomi Foner.”

The half-assed pursuit of Liquid Motel and Shining City (on his part, that is).

The poem about murdering his wife Naomi + His writing you, “Naomi is being brutal.”

“But throughout her career [Naomi Foner] seems to have focused so much on one particular concept—the essential unbreakable bond between parent and child which is even more essential, more unbreakable than the bond between husband and wife—that you can't be blamed for thinking this is probably the one overriding theme of her life.”

The wacky blowup at Trinity College and the ones at Colma Cemetery and the airport!

His not renewing the contract!

“I won't call him an artist—in fact my final assessment of Stephen is that he would be a toxic addition to any artistic ecosphere.”

More later,

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