James Purdy: Bleak Fiction, Softer Poetry

Daniel Green at Poetry Magazine:

James Purdy’s first novel, Malcolm, the story of a beautiful young man who encounters a world of dangerous and grotesque comic characters while searching for his missing father, was published in 1959. The book brought Purdy critical acclaim (and was later adapted for the stage by Edward Albee), as did his next few novels: The Nephew (1961), Cabot Wright Begins (1964), and Eustace Chisholm and the Works (1967). Purdy was prominent enough that reviewing Cabot Wright Begins in the New York Times, Susan Sontag called him “indisputably one of the half dozen or so living American writers worth taking seriously.” This proved to be Purdy’s critical and popular zenith, however. As the first of his novels to incorporate homosexuality as a direct plot element, Eustace Chisholmpuzzled many critics, and while Purdy wouldn’t represent sexuality so explicitly again until his novel Narrow Rooms (1978), his fiction from the 1970s on attracted less and less notice. With his reputation as a novelist in decline, Purdy turned more often to playwrighting and poetry, with the latter remaining the genre for which he is still least recognized.

more here.

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