What I Think I Did
A Season of Survival
In Two Acts

Larry Woiwode
(Basic Books)
Larry Woiwode lives to hell and gone in south-west North Dakota, and what he offers us here is an excellent guide on what not to do in the winter if you live to hell and gone in south-west North Dakota. First, don't turn down an empty side road at dusk, one you're unfamiliar with --- driving a big American car with no chains when a snow storm is about to hit, especially if you are dressed in a light summer shirt. Also, don't try to turn around so the back wheels will end up in a ditch filled with ice when you are five miles from civilization.

Then, if you order a wood-burning furnace for your home, set it up exactly as the company recommends; don't bring in a local plumber. Get batteries to keep the water circulating if the local power goes off, because if your 440 gallons of water freezes in the middle of January, you'll have a cracked block that's going to beat anything you might come up with in your big American car.

These bits of North Dakota lore are fine and dandy, but unfortunately, Woiwode mixes them up with these spooks, heavies that keep popping up, screwing up this otherwise mildly entertaining guide to survival in the great plains, spooks named W. H. Auden, James Wright, William Maxwell, John Cheever, Robert Frost, Robert Bly, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, John Updike, and William Shawn. These are all people that Woiwode has met, or wants to meet, or has spoken to, or has passed on the streets of New York, people who invariably stop him to tell him what a great writer he is.

Once, his agent told him to get in touch with James Wright: "Just call him. Jim loves your book." Jim Wright turns out to be a bit of a name-dropper too. He tells Woiwode, "When I finished my first book I showed it to Wystan Auden." Not W. H., mind you. Wystan.

Woiwode manages to run into Mailer in a subway stop in Manhattan. Mailer asks, "How's the book doing?" This gives Woiwode the chance to let Mailer (and the hapless reader) know that it's in its twelfth printing. "Good for you!" says Mailer. "Give me a break!" says the reader.

The acme is a name-drop triple header of the century: Woiwode is [1] talking to William Maxwell in [2] the offices of The New Yorker magazine when [3] --- mirabile dictu! ---William Shawn just happens to pop in:

    "Ay, yes, Mr. Woiwode," he said, pronouncing it right...."A wonderful story."

It's too bad that Mailer coöpted the title Advertisements for Myself. It would have been a natural for this egregious bit of puffery.

--- Lolita Lark
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH