James Leo Herlihy was born in 1927 in Detroit, Michigan to a working-class family. After serving in World War II, Herlihy studied art, literature, and music at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, whose faculty had boasted such luminaries as William De Kooning and John Cage. After a professor told Herlihy that he had no future as a writer, the disillusioned Herlihy turned his attention to theater, where he met with considerable success and found acting roles in more than fifty plays over the span of several years.But Herlihy continued writing fiction despite the discouragement he had received and in 1960 he published All Fall Down, a largely critically acclaimed work which was later adapted for film. In 1965 he published Midnight Cowboy, which cemented his reputation as a serious writer.After the success of Midnight Cowboy, Herlihy retreated from the public eye and turned his attention to teaching. He took creative writing posts at the City College of New York, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Southern California. Herlihy died in Los Angeles in 1993 from an overdose of sleeping medication.
"His characters are distinctive. He has a sense of place which he vividly conveys to the reader. Above all there is originality. Mr. Herlihy follows an inspired tradition of contemporary American writing." —Baltimore SunIn his second collection of short stories, James Leo Herlihy explores a landscape of people living on the fringes of normal society as the pleasures of daily life fade. Men and women search for the missing fragment of meaning from their existence with Herlihy’s signature humor and deft dialogue. In the titular story, Mary Ellen McClure is trapped in a dull, unfulfilled life in a trailer park, suspecting her husband of having an affair. Together with her neighbor Ivy, she dabbles with a Ouija board which spells out the name Ezra and implies that Mary Ellen will have an affair. She becomes enamored with the fantasy of this unknown man—at first falling deep into the escapism of the imagined affair, then resolving to find him for real to save her from her stale life. Herlihy’s other gothic tales tell of Consilada Rector, who can’t get people to believe in the leprechaun that presides over her husband’s bar; Mrs. Dorothy Fitzpatrick, who records of the existence of a ghostly mail delivery truck; and a dying man who comes to stay with a mother and her blessed son William.
"Herlihy sheds a mourning light on the dark nights of the adolescent soul, even with its pain." —New York Herald Tribune Book ReviewMost people in town think sixteen-year-old Clinton Williams’ family is strange. His father, once an outspoken socialist, now searches for answers at the bottom of a glass. His mother has a reputation for scaring children. And his older brother, named Berry-berry, is a traveling vagabond, known by most for his cleft chin, loose morals, and streaks of violence.
Clinton himself is seen as meek, timid, and not quite right as he spends his days filling notebook after notebook, writing down every conversation he can overhear, word for word. Wishing he could contact his wayward brother, Clinton yearns for a day when he too can escape the neighborhood and travel the country. After following a clue to Berry-berry’s whereabouts, Clinton ventures to coastal Florida hoping to find him, but instead gets a firsthand view of his brother’s callous destructiveness that will leave permanent marks on the young man.
Midnight Cowboy is considered by many to be one of the best American novels published since World War II. The main story centers around Joe Buck, a naive but eager and ambitious young Texan, who decides to leave his dead-end job in search of a grand and glamorous life he believes he will find in New York City. But the city turns out to be a much more difficult place to negotiate than Joe could ever have imagined. He soon finds himself and his dreams compromised. Buck’s fall from innocence and his relationship with the crippled street hustler Ratso Rizzo form the novel’s emotional nucleus. This unlikely pairing of Ratso and Joe Buck is perhaps one of the most complex portraits of friendship in contemporary literature.
The focus on male friendship follows a strong path cut by Twain’s Huck and Jim, Melville’s Ishmael and Queequeg, Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby, and Kerouac’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity. Midnight Cowboy takes a well-deserved place among a group of distinguished American novels that write--often with unnerving candor--about those who live on the fringe of society.
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